LAKELAND, Fla. — One thing Dontrelle Willis didn’t bring with him to his first spring training with the Detroit Tigers: a bat.
That’s just fine with his new manager. Jim Leyland doesn’t plan on having one of the National League’s best hitting pitchers to take swings in the AL.
“Out of the question,” Leyland said. “Only if there was a total emergency or if someone got hurt and I had to, but out of the question.”
If Willis pitches the way he did in the Tigers’ 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday that was called in the top of the ninth because of rain, no one will be talking about his hitting.
Willis pitched three innings and allowed two hits, walking one and striking out three, lowering his spring ERA to 1.80 after two starts.
Acquired from the Florida Marlins along with third baseman Miguel Cabrera, Willis hit .286 for the Marlins last season and has a .234 career average with eight homers and 35 RBIs. With the designated hitter rule in the AL, Willis will not have to hit and he doesn’t plan to step into the batting cage any time this spring.
“As soon as I got to the Tigers (Leyland) put it in my head that I wouldn’t be doing any hitting,” Willis said. “I liked to do it. I liked the chance to keep our club in the ballgame and I took a lot of pride in it.”
Willis faced only 11 Braves batters, many he had seen in the National League. He said that he hasn’t grown accustomed to spring training being a routine exercise.
“I am still working hard,” Willis said. “It isn’t business as usual at all. I am throwing strikes. That’s all I am working on right now.”
Tom Glavine made his second start of the spring for the Braves and allowed two runs in 2 Ã innings. He struck out two but walked three.
“I can’t be displeased,” Glavine said. “It would be nice to go one, two, three, but that isn’t realistic in spring training. I am happy I used all my pitches and I just need to get more consistent.”
Braves manager Bobby Cox is happy with Glavine’s progress since re-signing for a second stint with the Braves in the offseason after five years with the Mets.
“Glavine looked great,” Cox said. “He only allowed one hard hit ball. He’s throwing free and easy and feels great.”
Notes: The rain started to fall heavily in the top of the ninth inning. Leyland said he had no problem calling the game, but didn’t want to put the tarp on the field to cause a rain delay. About 15 minutes after the game was called, the rain stopped. Cox said he thought the situation was a bit scary in the top of the ninth as the rain steadily grew harder. ... Willis keeps an autographed baseball card of former Tigers pitcher Matt Mantei taped to the top of his locker at Tiger Town. Mantei was attempting a comeback after nearly two years off the field with arm and leg injuries. He was given his release on Sunday after feeling more pain, but Willis said they became good friends and that Mantei meant a lot to his growth as a pitcher ... Brandon Inge, who has requested a trade, started at third base and tripled in his first at-bat. He was 1-for-4 with an RBI. Leyland said he would showcase Inge at third when there were scouts in the stands.