Willis optimistic about command issues

Willis optimistic about command issues

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Dontrelle Willis couldn't command his fastball Friday, but the newest member of the Tigers' pitching rotation is optimistic he'll find it again before the team breaks camp next week.

"Today I was terrible," Willis said. "Today I had no plan of attack as far as where I was throwing the ball."

The left-hander's frustrating outing -- five earned runs on seven hits and four walks in 3 1/3 innings against Toronto -- left his ERA for the spring at 6.59.

Willis has walked 11 in 13 2/3 innings. A veteran pitcher like Willis understands you shouldn't put too much stock in Spring Training statistics, but even so, he knows the problems he encountered Friday need to be fixed before the season begins.

Willis went to the bullpen to work on a few things after Tigers manager Jim Leyland pulled him from the game. While not giving out specifics, Willis did say he has some idea where the problem lies.

"Today in the game, [I] was terrible. I think I was just trying to be too quick to the plate," Willis said. "I just was not as good today. I have to do a better job of going out there focusing and making guys hit the ball."

Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez wanted Willis to throw a few more pitches in the bullpen, particularly four-seam fastballs.

"He didn't have command of the fastball at all," Leyland said. "I can understand sometimes you can't command your breaking ball, but you've got to be able to command your fastball. If you can't do that you're going to have problems. Anybody would."

There didn't appear to be anything missing from Willis' velocity, but as the pitcher pointed out, it's not just about how hard he throws.

"I just want [to force] guys to swing and swing early, and I haven't been doing that," Willis said. "I'm not upset, I'm just calling it how I see it. I just didn't do my job today, that's the bottom line. That doesn't mean I can't do my job. We'll just go back to the drawing board, come in and work tomorrow and go from there."

The fact that Willis was missing the strike zone so badly with his fastball could be a result of many factors. Leyland suggested one key is repetition.

"He's not a mechanical guy, really," Leyland said. "He's got some different pitches in a funky delivery. I would like to see a funky delivery, but a consistent funky delivery without variations of the funk."

At this point, Willis and Leyland aren't concerned.

"It's not a concern if he commands the fastball, but if he doesn't command the fastball he's not going to do very well, nobody does," Leyland said. "In order to win up here you've got to command two pitches, and a lot of times three, and if you're not commanding one you've got problems. And I'm not talking about him, I'm talking about in general."

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.