|ESPN.com: SweetSpot||[Print without images]|
We're talking about a great athlete by any measure, and an enormously positive clubhouse influence, when he's right. Aren't those the same reasons that the St. Louis Cardinals stopped trying to help [Rick] Ankiel find home plate with his pitches and put him to work instead finding a new career as an everyday player?
If the situation hasn't reached critical mass, it can't be far away. Willis has one major-league victory since joining the Tigers in 2008. Far worse, he's walked 50 batters in 49 innings for Detroit overall. That's not pitching. It's aiming.
The Tigers have done just about everything they know how to do with Willis on the psychological side, though, including sending him down to Class A Lakeland last summer to work on his control under minimal pressure.
At 27, Willis may not have enough time to start over as an outfielder in the minors, the way Ankiel did, but giving Dontrelle a bat and a new mission might be the same as giving him a lifeline right now.
On the other hand, Rick Ankiel didn't show great promise, statistically at least, before he transitioned from pitching to outfielding. Before making the switch, his career hitting stats were worse than Willis'. Somebody saw something, and that something was a better predictor than the stats of his hitting prowess.
Willis pitches tonight. If he bombs out again, he's probably finished for some time, just as Fausto Carmona's last start was -- well, his last start for a while. If it turns out that Willis can't pitch and someone figures out another way for him to make his way in the game, fantastic.
Let's not get our hopes up, though. We probably get a Rick Ankiel just once every generation or three.
(H/T: BTF's Newsstand)