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D-Train On Track: Willis Helps Marlins’ Staff Set An Early Pace
By Tony McClean
Updated: April 22, 2005
FLUSHING, N.Y.— When Florida picther Dontrelle Willis got hit hard early during spring training, there were some whispers that the D-Train had lost some of his magic from two years ago.
The lanky lefty from Oakland was 11-11 last season with the Fish after a stellar 14-6 mark in 2003. It was part of season where Willis was named the National League’s Rookie of The Year and the Marlins won the World Series.
Needless to say after his first three regular season starts, no one is whispering about Willis’ game now. He opened the season with back-to-back shutouts against Washington on April 8 and Cincinnati on the 13th.
Willis had his 24 scoreless inning streak snapped in his return match against the Nationals on the 18th, but he still got a win to open the season at 3-0. He was trying to become the first hurler since Luis Tiant in 1966 to open the year with three straight shutouts.
Speaking April 17th following Florida’s 5-2 win at New York, Willis said the seeds of his early season success began in the Marlins’ spring training camp in Jupiter, Florida. “We as a team did a good job of getting our pitch counts up in the spring”, Willis added.
“Jack (McKeon) told all of us to come in camp in shape and be ready to work so we’d be ready for the season. Things are working good so far. I didn’t get all excited about the numbers. We’ve always had the mentality as a staff to be ready to compete”.
Willis (3-0, 1.13 ERA), Josh Beckett (3-1, 1.00) and A.J. Burnett (2-1, 2.25) have all set a sizzling pace for a talented Marlins staff in the first weeks of the season. Florida leads the majors in ERA (2.38) with five complete games, four of them shutouts.
“We know it’s a marathon and not a sprint”, said Willis. “All of us are going to leave it out on the field in every start. We have a very competitive staff here”.
The Marlins will need that competitiveness for the long haul. With the NL East race looking to be a little tighter than expected, Willis knows that the team with the best pitching staff will be able to take the crown.
“You know that you have to deal with teams like the Braves, the Mets and Phillies”, Willis added. “After seeing Washington in the spring, I felt like they’d be in this thing too. It’s definitely going to be a tough division to win, but we’ve got as good a shot as anyone else”.
A HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE?
Attendance for Marlins’ games at Dolphins’ Stadium has been an issue for the team since its inaugural season in 1993. Despite some uncertainty and new stadium issues, fans have slowly started to flock back to the ballpark to see the Fish.
Through their first 11 home games, Florida is averaging nearly 25,000 a game. Willis feels that since the core of the 2003 World Championship team has remained intact, Florida baseball fans see some stability that didn’t exist following the mass exodus of the 1997 title team.
“The decisions being made about a new ballpark are out of our hands”, said Willis. “Even if something happens, it’s still going to be a few years wait. I think because we’ve kept guys and added players like Carlos (Delgado) and Paul (Lo Duca), folks feel like they can identify this team better than before”.
“Having guys like myself, A.J., Josh, and Mike Lowell have seen us grow and that’s the key. They (the fans) see that the organization is committed and they won’t have to go through what happened before”.
NOTE: All Florida’s pitching stats were entering its weekend series against Cincinnati.