Monday, March 30, 2009

Willis Continues To Confound Tigers

The news on Dontrelle Willis just keeps getting weirder and, dare I say, sadder.

The Tigers placed the lefty on the disabled list to begin the season. But this isn't any normal, run-of-the-mill DL placement. This isn't a knee, or an elbow, or a shoulder problem.

The Tigers placed Willis on the DL for anxiety. Yep.

As in, "We don't really know WHAT the heck is wrong with this guy -- except that it's between the ears."

Willis, who's struggled with control ever since coming to the Tigers from Florida a year ago, seems to have this propensity, now, to have good command in simulated games and between-appearance bullpen sessions.

Then, when the bright lights get turned on, Willis gets stage fright. Or something.

For when the games begin -- and these are just spring training games, don't forget -- Willis loses it and seems to forget everything that he's learned in simulation.

Not good.

I've been following the Tigers since 1971, and the closest thing that Willis's case comes to in Detroit is the sad story of Kevin Saucier, which I've written of here before.

Saucier, also a lefty, had a marvelous 1981 in Detroit after coming over from the Phillies. He was the team's closer and posted a fine under-2.00 ERA. He was lively and animated and would hop all over the field after saving another game for the Tigers.

Then, around mid-season in 1982, he feared for the safety of opposing batters and quit, on the spot.

And that's not even all that close to the Willis situation.

Certainly, no Tiger in my lifetime has been sidelined because of anxiety. Jimmy Piersall never played for them, after all.

It's disturbing, Willis's condition. It has a lot of "he's done" written all over it.

If a pitcher can't do it during the games, then why bother with him?

It may be getting closer to the moment where the Tigers have to release Willis and start chowing down on his $22 million contract. Better have the Pepto-Bismol at the ready.

For my gig at The Baseball Page, I was commissioned to select five players from the American League who I thought were intriguing, for a variety of reasons, and who readers should keep an eye on in 2009. Willis was one of those players. You can read what I wrote here.

It looks like Dontrelle Willis might be on the verge of seeing it all go down the drain. Who gets placed on the DL for anxiety?

Better yet, who ever comes back from such a distinction?


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