Even though Willis was on the losing end of his last start, giving up three runs (one earned) in St. Louis on Tuesday, there are encouraging signs that the D-Train is about to get back rolling.
Tempo is critical for Willis, now 14-7 after dropping four of his last five decisions.
Willis gets into trouble when he hurries his pace in between pitches. When the 23-year-old does that, he tends to lower his arm angle, causing wildness.
"We're working on his pre-pitch routine," pitching coach Mark Wiley said. "That allows him to get his arm up higher. When he gets in a hurry, his arm tends to follow."
Willis has that famous high leg kick, and because of his unconventional windup, he has great deception on hitters. Wiley said the Cardinals did a good job fouling off pitches, resulting in the D-Train rolling up 103 pitches in five innings at St. Louis. Because the Marlins need Willis to be a big performer down the stretch, the decision was made to take him out after five innings at Busch Stadium.
Also, coming out of the All-Star break, Willis was given an extra day of rest.
"We're trying to keep these guys fresh the next two months and hopefully get on a roll," Wiley said.
Willis will start against the Reds on Sunday.
Cabrera raises average: After his four-hit performance on Thursday in St. Louis, Miguel Cabrera raised his average to .355, creeping ever closer to Derrek Lee (.358) for the National League batting lead.
Cabrera quickly points out it is too early to talk batting title, since there is about two months to go.
"They're not power hitters," manager Jack McKeon says of players like Lee, Cabrera and Albert Pujols (the NL's top three hitters for average). "They are good hitters with power.
"Pujols is the same way. Pujols is a good hitter. He will take you to right field. We've seen him do that the last couple of nights [when the Marlins were at St. Louis]. But they're smart hitters. If they can't hit the ball out of the park, they will take what the pitchers give them."
Cabrera has been the Marlins' most consistent and productive hitter all season. Since July 1, the slugger is 45-for-118 (.381), hitting safely in 27 of 30 games.
Cabrera has 17 game-winning hits this season, which leads the Major Leagues. A game-winning hit produces the run that gives a team the lead for good. On Thursday, Cabrera had a two-run homer at St. Louis, giving the Marlins a 2-0 lead in a game they held on to win, 4-3. And he is second in the Major Leagues with 25 go-ahead RBIs. Pujols has 26.
Delgado getting closer: Encouraged by hitting in the cages and in batting practice on Friday in Cincinnati, chances are good that Carlos Delgado will be back in the lineup sometime in the series with the Reds.
If he doesn't start, the slugger likely will be available as a pinch-hitter.
Bothered by a sore left elbow, Delgado last played on July 27 against the Pirates. He has not started in nine straight games.
Encarnacion rests: Juan Encarnacion, third on the team in games played with 100, was given a rare day off on Friday. Bothered a bit by a sore left wrist, Encarnacion also has had his share of struggles against Reds lefty Eric Milton, Friday's starter.
For his career, Encarnacion is 3-for-32 (.094) with two home runs off Milton.
Chris Aguila started in right field on Friday.
On Wednesday night at St. Louis, Aguila was robbed of an extra-base hit by Jim Edmonds, who made a web gem over-the-shoulder leaping grab in the ninth inning. Had the ball gotten over the reach of Edmonds, Aguila says he would have had a triple.
"I was trying to hit the ball hard," Aguila said. "I just hit it to that part of the field. I don't even know how many Gold Gloves that guy has got. I knew I hit it good, and I knew it was a line drive. I was hoping it would get over his head. Right when he left his feet, I had a bad feeling. This guy has done this once or twice before. It's not like this guy hasn't made an over-the-shoulder catch like this. That's just the way goes."
Coming up: Brian Moehler carries a 6-8 record with a 3.64 ERA into Saturday's second game of the series. The Reds are going with Luke Hudson, 2-5 with an 8.39 ERA.
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.