Notes: D-Train 'in midseason form'

Notes: D-Train 'in midseason form'

JUPITER, Fla. -- In an otherwise lackluster early Spring Training, the Marlins were encouraged by a superb performance by their reliable ace.

Dontrelle Willis dazzled in three shutout innings, surrendering just one hit. The 25-year-old lefty struck out three and faced 10 batters.

"I thought he pitched today like he's in midseason form," manager Fredi Gonzalez said after the Marlins tied the Orioles, 2-2, on Wednesday afternoon.

Thus far, the Marlins haven't had much to celebrate in terms of Grapefruit League results. Wednesday's tie snapped a five-game losing streak.

Although he hasn't officially been announced as the Opening Day starter, Willis is fully expected to take the ball first when the season begins on April 2 at Washington.

Starting pitching is projected to be the strength of the squad, but right now, there is some uncertainty in the starting five because Josh Johnson will miss at least two months with ulnar nerve irritation in his right biceps.

"We still have to go out there and stay focused," said Willis, a two-time All-Star and leader of the club. "If we do things right, we can make up for [Johnson] being gone. There are a lot of candidates for a lot of spots."

Sergio Mitre, Yusmeiro Petit, Wes Obermueller, Chris George and Jose Garcia are candidates to fill Johnson's void.

Willis feels there are a number of strong starters already in the rotation, and more young arms on the way.

"They have good stuff, and you can smell that they want to get that spot and win a job," Willis said. "It's fun. That makes everybody competitive. That's fun to watch.

"I try to tell them, 'Welcome the challenge.' They understand that. It's fun seeing guys being competitive and guys upset when they aren't doing well. It means they care."

Willis also wants the other starters to want to take that ball in the opener.

"I'd be upset if nobody else was trying to fight for it," Willis said. "Even when I was fourth or fifth in the rotation early in my career, I was fighting trying to get that [first start]. You have to go out there and have that mentality that I'm going to win a job and be out here on the first day. I don't want to wait until the fifth day. We have fun joking around with each other."

Closer update: The open closer competition appears to have a new leader. Hard-throwing Matt Lindstrom is believed to have the inside edge after Kevin Gregg's recent inconsistencies.

Early in camp, Gregg was viewed as the front-runner based on his 125 career games and the fact he has the most experience of the group.

The organization prefers some experience, and while Gregg hasn't closed before, he worked in setup and long-relief roles previously with the Angels. In three Grapefruit League games, Gregg has a 5.40 ERA, giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits with three strikeouts and two walks.

Lindstrom has a 100 mph fastball and he's appeared in two games, giving up one run in two innings (4.50 ERA). More so than the numbers, the club likes how Lindstrom is throwing better.

Henry Owens, another 95-plus mph right-hander, also is gaining ground in the closer race. In two scoreless spring innings, Owens has issued two hits, while striking out one and walking one.

New stadium location? The Miami-Dade County Commission on Tuesday showed support for a new retractable-roof stadium for the Marlins. But the commission expressed concerns over the proposed location.

The commission recommended the stadium be in a different site, at the Orange Bowl in Little Havana. Support had been for the retractable-roof park to be in downtown Miami, just south of the Miami Arena.

There are concerns that the downtown Miami site, which would be on nine acres, is too small, and they questioned if it would re-energize the area.

Commissioners voted 11-1 to pursue a ballpark on a site to be determined.

South Florida lawmakers are currently in Tallahassee urging the Florida Legislature to approve a $60 million sales tax rebate to help close the funding gap for the estimated $490 million park.

Petit impressive: Petit certainly enhanced his chances of winning a roster spot, and possibly a place in the rotation, with his strong three shutout-inning performance on Tuesday.

Drawing a start opposite Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka, Petit struck out five and allowed one hit in three innings.

"He might have outpitched Daisuke," Gonzalez said. "He was sharp."

With Johnson expected to miss about two months, Petit is in the mix to claim that vacated roster spot.

"His fastball had some life in it, and his curveball dipped," Gonzalez said. "His command was excellent."

Mitre ready: Pleased with the results of his simulated game on Tuesday, Mitre is ready to see his first Grapefruit League action on Sunday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie.

A shoulder problem caused Mitre to miss a majority of 2006. While he's been throwing all spring, he was a bit behind the rest of the pitchers.

Mitre is a front-runner to claim Johnson's rotation spot.

He threw two innings and 40 pitches in his simulated game.

"That's up to Fredi and Kranny [pitching coach Rick Kranitz]," Mitre said about him possibly winning a rotation spot. "I'm ready to go. I'll be there when the bell rings."

Mitre will start and pitch no more than two innings. Petit is expected to follow Mitre, and he may throw as many as four innings.

Fish bites: Southpaw Taylor Tankersley, nursing inflammation in his throwing shoulder, is expected to begin light tossing off flat ground on Friday. ... Miguel Cabrera, who had two triples all last regular season, ripped a triple to right-center in the fourth inning. ... For Saturday's split-squad games with the Dodgers, Ricky Nolasco gets the ball at Roger Dean Stadium, while Chris Volstad is slated to start at Vero Beach. ... Robert Andino, a natural shortstop, was working on some basic drills at second base before Wednesday's first game with the Orioles. Andino has yet to play second in a spring game.

Up next: The Marlins head to Dodgertown on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. ET to take on Los Angeles for the second time this spring. Anibal Sanchez, who walked four in 1 1/3 scoreless innings in his first start, takes the mound. The Dodgers are going with Derek Lowe.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.