What Role Will Willis Play?

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) -- Dontrelle Willis never broached the topic of returning to the starting rotation with manager Jim Leyland, content just to be back with the Detroit Tigers after a rehab stint in the minors.
But Willis will be back in a modified starting role on Tuesday when the Tigers play in Willis' hometown of Oakland, Calif., against the Athletics.
Willis, who has pitched only once in relief since coming off the disabled list May 21, will start against the A's but will be replaced no matter what after four or five innings by fellow Tigers starter Armando Galarraga.
Leyland understands it's a radical idea, especially after Galarraga went an impressive 8 1-3 innings in his last start against the Angels. But Leyland also understands what Willis could bring to the Tigers' staff and feels he owes the left-hander an opportunity to earn himself a spot back in the rotation.
"This is one way to try and get him going. In fairness to the young man, in fairness to the team, we need him," Leyland said. "Right now that's the only way I can think (of) to do something. He's been sitting down there idle."
Willis made two starts in April, but was injured in the first inning of his second start after he slipped off the mound while delivering a pitch. He went on the disabled list with a hyperextended right knee and made three starts with Triple-A Toledo on his rehab assignment.
Since his return, Willis has made one appearance out of the bullpen.
"There hasn't really been a situation for me to come in so far," Willis said before Saturday's game in Seattle. "I'm just happy that we're playing better ball. My thought process is just to continue working."
Willis came to the Tigers in an offseason trade with Florida, along with slugger Miguel Cabrera, then signed a $29 million, three-year contract with Detroit.
If Willis runs into trouble before reaching the fourth on Tuesday, Leyland will use relievers to bridge the gap, allowing Galarraga the opportunity to warm up as if he was starting the game.
Leyland understands fans may question his decision, especially with Galarraga's success after taking Willis' rotation spot. Leyland said a number of times, "I have not lost my mind." It is not a permanent situation either, Leyland stressed, and was not ordered up by Tigers management.
"In my heart, I believe I have to make some attempt to try and get this guy going to see if he's going to be able to contribute for us," Leyland said.

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