Former Tigers Pitcher Dontrelle Willis Agrees To 1-Year Deal With Phillies
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ROB MAADDI,AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Dontrelle Willis has a new role on another new team.
The Philadelphia Phillies signed the left-hander to an $850,000, one-year contract on Thursday. Willis joins his fourth team in three seasons, looking to revive his career out of the bullpen.
“I’m excited,” Willis said.
The 30-year-old Willis was the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year with Florida and finished second in Cy Young Award voting in 2005. He was 1-6 with a 5.00 ERA for Cincinnati last year.
Willis is expected to pitch out of the bullpen for the Phillies, who’ve won five straight NL East titles. He’s 72-69 with a 4.17 ERA in nine seasons with four teams.
Willis has made just three relief appearances in 205 career games in the regular season. He didn’t allow a run in three relief appearances in the 2003 World Series, helping the Marlins beat the New York Yankees.
“Dontrelle, I believe, is at a point in his career where he is ready to make the transition to being an effective reliever,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.
“Because of his experience, past success and overall positive energy, we feel this will be an opportunity to benefit both him and the team, especially with the success he has had against left-handed hitters, both recently and over the course of his career.”
Left-handers hit .127 against Willis in 55 at-bats last season. They’ve hit just .200 against him during his career.
“Wherever they need me, whatever role,” Willis said. “I heard someone talking about pinch-hitting, so whatever role. With all of these starters going nine and 10 innings, I’m not sure I’ll get the chance to do that. But I just want to get into the best shape I can be and I feel great. I’m not going to rock the boat; I just want to get on.”
Willis’ deal includes $400,000 in performance bonuses, including $25,000 for 30 plate appearances, which is an unusual provision for a pitcher. But Willis is one of the best hitting pitchers in the majors. He’s a .244 career hitter with nine homers and 39 RBIs in 389 at-bats.
Once known as the “D-Train,” Willis’ career started to derail in 2007. He had a sensational debut with Florida in 2003, going 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA. After going 10-11 the next season, he led the NL with 22 wins in 2005.
He has 26 total wins since then in the majors.
Willis was traded along with Miguel Cabrera to Detroit in 2007. He had two knee injuries with the Tigers in 2008 and missed most of the 2009 season with an anxiety disorder.
In 2010, he pitched nine games with the Tigers, was traded to Arizona, got released, signed a minor league deal with San Francisco and went 0-1 for two Giants farm teams.
Reds manager Dusty Baker gave Willis another opportunity last season, but he struggled. He’s hoping moving to the bullpen can salvage his career.
“I have to step back and have fun,” he said. “Sometimes in your career, you often get into a grind where you have to do this and you have to do that. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to go out there and compete.”
Willis could be reunited with childhood friend Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia. Rollins, the 2007 NL MVP, is a free agent who appears headed back to the Phillies. Both players attended Encinal High School in Alameda, Calif.
“I talk to him pretty often,” Willis said. “He’s fired up. He’s definitely fired up. We need to sign him, too. We got the little stuff out of the way, so we have to get to the big stuff and get the big guy back. Growing up, shagging for him, it’s pretty surreal to come full circle.”
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