Notes: Willis turns in best start of spring

Notes: Willis turns in best start of spring

JUPITER, Fla. -- For Dontrelle Willis, the countdown to Opening Day has already begun.

The D-Train turned in his finest Spring Training outing in what will be his final Grapefruit League start on Thursday.

Working a spring-high 6 2/3 innings, Willis didn't allow a run while scattering three hits in the Marlins' 2-1 win over the Cardinals.

Matched up against Chris Carpenter, Willis collected his first victory of the spring. The 25-year-old lefty threw 85 pitches, struck out five and walked two.

Slated to pitch the April 2 season opener at Washington, Willis will make one final exhibition appearance. But it won't be against a big-league club. He's next slated to throw on Wednesday. The Marlins happen to face the Nationals that day, so Willis will be used in a Minor League game that day.

"I feel fine," Willis said.

The one thing that nagged him Thursday was walking the final two batters he faced, Preston Wilson and So Taguchi. Both came with two outs in the seventh. Renyel Pinto entered in relief, and recorded the third out without any more damage.

"I expect a lot of myself," Willis said. "I wasn't real happy at the end. With two outs, you want to work on things in game situations. You can't give a team like that [extra] outs, and it comes to bite you in the [rear end]. But that's why we have a bullpen."

Willis showed his all-out style in the first inning, when he made a diving play on a high chopper off the bat of Chris Duncan. Diving head-first, Willis collected the grounder, as his glove hand curled under his body. Scrambling to his feet, Willis threw Duncan out and immediately ensured his teammates that his right hand was fine.

Willis contributing: Count Willis in on assisting Project 3000.

Willis plans to donate $100 for each strikeout he records during the regular season, plus a donation of at least another $10,000 to Project 3000.

Project 3000 is a cause that hits close to home for Willis, because it has been created by Cubs first baseman Derek Lee and Boston Celtics CEO and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck in September.

The organization was established to help find a cure for Lebers Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). Lee's daughter, Jada, has the condition, and she's lost vision in one eye.

Lee, a member of the Marlins' 2003 World Series championship team, remains a close friend of Willis.

"I found out about [Project 3000] glancing in the paper," Willis said. "I found out about what [Lee] was doing, and I tracked him down myself. I said, 'I'm on board, baby, you don't have no choice.' He's very appreciative. It hit home for me because I got a chance to play with her before this started to occur.

"She's a beautiful girl, and you don't wish that on anybody or their family. Again, I'm with him."

Hermida update: Jeremy Hermida saw his first game action since Saturday on Thursday when he played in a Minor League game on a back field at Roger Dean Stadium.

Leading off every inning, Hermida was 1-for-5 with a home run.

Struck on the kneecap by a foul ball in his third at-bat against the Orioles on March 17, Hermida has been getting treatment on his knee since. Last Sunday, an X-ray was taken for precautionary reasons. It came back negative.

"I felt OK, I'm not quite full strength," Hermida said.

Some swelling remains, which is making it difficult to run full speed.

Hermida said he probably will play in another Minor League game on Friday, this time playing some outfield.

Andino starts: With Hanley Ramirez given another day to rest his right groin injury, Robert Andino got the start Thursday at shortstop.

Ramirez tweaked his groin sprinting to first base in the first inning on Tuesday, and he was immediately removed for precautionary reasons.

Andino was seeing his first Grapefruit League action since March 10, when he collided with Alfredo Amezaga. Andino played in a Minor League game on Wednesday, his first game situation since he aggravated his back after crashing into Amezaga.

Andino has been mentioned in at least one trade rumor, but the Marlins don't appear in any rush to move the 22-year-old shortstop.

There's been speculation that Andino could be moved to the Cubs for center fielder Angel Pagan. Such a move appears unlikely.

There are questions if Pagan would be a significant upgrade over what the Marlins already have. Also, Andino has options, and he's a good insurance policy for Ramirez.

In baseball circles, Andino is regarded as a better-than-average defensive shortstop, increasing his value.

De Aza developing: With Alejandro De Aza emerging quickly, the need to find an experienced center fielder has diminished. While De Aza likely will open the season in Double-A, it may be a matter of months before he gets called up to be the center fielder.

De Aza singled, doubled and scored a run in three at-bats against Carpenter on Thursday. De Aza added his second double of the game in the eighth inning, driving in a run.

About the only thing that didn't work out for De Aza on Thursday was being caught stealing trying to take third in the eighth inning.

Gonzalez said he has given De Aza the green light.

"We want to see him play," Gonzalez said.

Because De Aza, 22, is progressing so quickly, the Marlins are feeling more confident that they can fill their center field spot from within.

Fish bites: Improved performances have put Kevin Gregg back into the closer's mix, where he is in competition with Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens. Gregg threw one scoreless inning in a Minor League game on Thursday, retiring the side on seven pitches. ... Taylor Tankersley is slated to throw off the mound again on Friday, and he is projected to throw batting practice on Sunday. If all goes well, he could see his first Grapefruit League action on Tuesday or Wednesday. ... First base/infield coach Perry Hill was not on hand Thursday because he was getting fluid drained from a knee that has ailed him most of the spring. Josue Espada, the Class A Jupiter hitting coach, filled in for Hill on Thursday. ... Infielder Joe Dillon was reassigned to Minor League camp on Thursday.

Coming up: The Marlins take on the Dodgers at Roger Dean Stadium on Friday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Anibal Sanchez (2-0, 1.46 ERA) goes for his third spring win, while Los Angeles is going with Derek Lowe (0-2, 2.51 ERA).

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