Willis fans seven, allows three hits

MIAMI (AP) -- Most know him as the D-Train, although his manager has taken to calling him "A-Train."

By any name, this much is certain: Dontrelle Willis seems to be rolling again.

Willis (14-6) threw seven shutout innings for his first win in four starts, outdueling Kip Wells and lifting the Florida Marlins to a 3-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday night.

"We've got the A-Train on track now," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "D-Train, that's history."

Said Willis, who was unaware of his new nickname: "He's the skip, so he can call me whatever he wants."

Juan Encarnacion had a run-scoring double and Mike Lowell added a sacrifice fly in Florida's two-run seventh, and Miguel Cabrera
had a sacrifice fly in the eighth. That was enough for Willis, who allowed three hits and struck out seven as the Marlins remained 5 games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East.

"Feels good, man, feels good," said Willis, the All-Star left-hander who had allowed 23 earned runs in his last 13 innings coming in. "I've been in a rut, so it definitely feels good to give my team a chance to win. That's all you ask for as a starting pitcher, to get your chance to keep your team in the ballgame."

The simplest difference for Willis on Thursday was throwing strikes: 67.3 percent of his offerings were strikes against Pittsburgh, a pace nearly 10 percent higher than what he had in the three straight losses.

"No question, it was a big game," McKeon said. "Here was a guy who had some problems for three games. ... He really found his rhythm and it was smooth sailing from there."

Wells (6-11) was fine until the seventh when the Marlins broke through and extended the right-hander's road woes.

Jeff Conine, who had two hits as a replacement starter at first base for Carlos Delgado, singled leading off the seventh -- just the third hit by the Marlins. Encarnacion's double came on a crisp shot down the third base line three batters later. Lowell's fly ball brought home Paul Lo Duca with the second run.

"I don't know how Kip Wells is whatever his record is," Lowell said. "He's got good stuff. ... We didn't swing the bats all that well, but good enough. That's what good pitching does. It keeps you in the game."

Wells lost his seventh straight road start despite allowing four hits and two runs. In the seven road losses, the Pirates have scored just 10 runs -- five in a June 30 defeat at Washington.

"It's been very disappointing for him," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. "But I see him growing in a lot of different ways and we have to continue to encourage him and continue to make him better."

Jason Bay had two hits for the Pirates, who dropped two of three in Florida and lost a series to the Marlins for the first time since September 2003.

"We had our work cut out for us with the way Dontrelle was throwing," Wells said. "I obviously didn't want to give up any, but I had them pretty much where I wanted them for the most part."

Guillermo Mota pitched the eighth and Todd Jones worked the ninth for his 18th save in 20 chances, finishing off Florida's ninth shutout of the season, which ties the Los Angeles Angels for
second in the majors behind Atlanta's 11.

Willis didn't allow a hit until the fourth, when Bay connected on a one-out triple to center that bounced around in the triangle 434 feet from home plate. But Bay was stranded; Willis got Brad Eldred to strike out looking, then needed three pitches to fan Ryan Doumit.

Bay hit a two-out double to left in the sixth, sending Matt Lawton to third. Yet Willis escaped again, this time getting Eldred to pop out.

"He was attacking the zone," Eldred said. "And we weren't getting hits."

Game notes
Wells' ERA in his last seven road starts is 9.93, even after his solid outing Thursday. ... Delgado (sore arm) and shortstop Alex Gonzalez (sore elbow) were both out of Florida's lineup. Before the game, McKeon said he hoped to have both back on Friday; after the game, he pushed the probable return to Saturday. ... Pirates center fielder Ryan Duffy misplayed a short fly ball hit by Cabrera in the fourth; he backtracked and then recovered to make an inning-ending sprawling catch. ... Juan Pierre struck out in the sixth inning, his first whiff in 32 at-bats. ... The Pirates were shut out for the eighth time.