Dontrelle Willis on the comeback trail once again


Former Florida Marlin and high-kicking hurler Dontrelle Willis is working on his return to the big leagues yet again.

The Milwaukee Brewers signed Willis yesterday to a minor league contract which includes a Spring Training invite. D-Train, now 33, has bounced around all over the place the past several seasons, and hasn’t pitched in MLB since 2011.

One of the most popular Marlins ever, Willis spent part of last season in Independent ball with the Bridgeport Bluefish. The San Francisco Giants had signed him to a minor league deal in January, but released him in April before he ever pitched for them. Before that, the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles all gave Willis a shot at redemption, but he never caught on anywhere. His last appearance in the majors was with the Cincinnati Reds in 2011, where he pitched to a 5.00 ERA in 13 starts.

Fans remember Willis for breaking into MLB with the Florida Marlins in 2003 and helping lead them to the World Series. He was named National League Rookie of the Year that season and earned an All-Star nod. Willis finished second in NL Cy Young voting in 2005 and appeared in his second and final All-Star game.

Then he just sort of flamed out. In 2007, his final year with the Marlins, Willis’ numbers plummeted. Despite making a league-best 35 starts, Willis had a 5.17 ERA, 1.597 WHIP and career-worst 10.9 H/9. It was enough for the Marlins to sever ties with their former All-Star; he was thrown in the Miguel Cabrera trade with the Detroit Tigers that offseason.

Willis clearly wasn’t the same pitcher in his three-year tenure with the Tigers. He became a plague of injuries, and only made 22 total starts from 2008-10, putting up an awful 6.86 ERA before Detroit shipped him off to Arizona, the D-Train’s penultimate MLB stop.

It’s depressing to think about what could’ve been. Dontrelle Willis was the Florida Marlins ace for a few years and was primed for a huge career. Marlins fans loved him for his obscure delivery, contagious energy and for doing things like this:

And lest we forget what he could do with the bat:

Hopefully Dontrelle can catch on with the Brewers this season. I’m not too familiar with their rotation situation, but I do know they just parted with a big arm in Yovani Gallardo. Maybe Willis can fight his way back to the big leagues for the first time in four years. And in case you were wondering, the Marlins and Brewers don’t play until August 17-19 in Milwaukee. The teams meet again September 7-9 at Marlins Park.

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Since we are FanSided, that means we are all big fans of certain teams and players. For me, Dontrelle Willis holds a special place in my heart, as he was the starting pitcher for the first Marlins game I attended live. It was 2007 and D-Train got the start against the Atlanta Braves at (what was then called) Dolphin Stadium. The Florida Marlins won 6-5 in walk-off fashion that day, and I’ll never forget the experience.

Best of luck to the D-Train this year.

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