Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Willis's Performance Terrific, But It's Just One

Dontrelle Willis isn't back. Let's get that straight right out of the box.

The demons aren't gone. Some of the dragons still lie in wait.

Willis's career is a house of cards, still.

So when you exhale after every hopeful outing, turn your head and blow in the opposite direction, just in case.

Last night, at Comerica Park, Willis won himself a baseball game.


His first win in the big leagues since 2007.

A masterpiece. Not just for him. For anyone.

Willis, infamously placed on the disabled list with anxiety disorder at the end of spring training, made his second start of the season against the Texas Rangers, they of the seven-game winning streak and the multitude of .300+ hitters with so much raw power.

And Dontrelle handled them. Easily.

Seventeen Rangers in a row, Willis retired at one point.

It was not too long ago when we feared that Willis wouldn't be able to hit the Atlantic Ocean with his pitches.

Last night?

Six and one-third innings. One hit. One. And just two walks.

One-hundred pitches thrown, and more than 60 percent were for strikes.

Oh, it's cause for celebration, alright. Cause for optimism.

No question.

But this is still a work in progress.

Remember Todd Van Poppel?

Van Poppel was the much-ballyohooed rookie draft choice of the Oakland A's back in 1990.

He never came close to living up to the expectations.

Van Poppel became, for a time, a Tiger.

By the time he arrived in Detroit, Van Poppel was washed up. At age 24.

But he had one moment of glory as a Tiger: a complete-game, five-hit shutout against the Royals at Tiger Stadium. It was August 30, 1996.

Despite the shutout, Van Poppel's ERA as a Tiger was an unsightly 11.39 in 36.1 innings.

Point being, I remember folks sprouting hope after Van Poppel's shutout of the Royals.

Maybe he's back, they said. Maybe he's the pitcher everyone thought he could be.

Then Todd went out and surrendered 30 earned runs over his next five starts, which spanned just 12.1 innings total.

I'm cautiously optimistic about Willis's performance last night. It should do him a world of good.

But he's not out of the woods yet. Not even close.

This is a game of performance, big league baseball is. Consistent performance.

What is it they say about blind squirrels? Or a broken clock?

This is, as I've written and said on Blog Talk Radio, going to be done in stages, Dontrelle Willis's comeback.

Stage One: get through that first start and survive it without blowing up.

Status: Accomplished.

Stage Two: build on that and learn how to pitch again, working the plate and gaining more and more command.

Status: In progress.

It's not fence-sitting to say, "Check back with me in September about Dontrelle Willis."

It's smart.

Is the D-Train back on the tracks?

See three sentences ago.


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