Another Stop For The ‘D-Train’

By Andrew Pentis
Updated: June 4, 2010

PHOENIX — Dontrelle Willis won’t make his D-backs debut until Saturday, but as Arizona opened its 10-game homestand Friday against the Colorado Rockies, his mere presence represented respite in a clubhouse made gloomy by a 10-game losing streak.

And isn’t that, at least in part, why Willis is here?

The 28-year-old left-hander, who arrived at Chase Field on Arizona’s off-day on Thursday, will counter the Rockies’ Jhoulys Chacin in the second game of the three-game set on Saturday, auditioning for a more permanent spot in his new team’s rotation.

“I’m excited that they’re throwing me into the fire and they feel confident in me,” Willis said. “This is a talented ballclub; I know we’re in the hole, but we can climb out of it.”

Willis, who closed on a Valley house before it was announced he had been traded on Tuesday, reminisced with reporters about watching a game between the D-backs and Chicago Cubs just as his pro career was beginning in 2001.

Willis also recounted his early success in Florida (2003 NL Rookie of the Year Award), struggles in Detroit (6.86 ERA over three frustrating seasons) and what he needs to do to fix his command issues (92 free passes issued in 101 innings with the Tigers). Without revealing specifics, and saying in jest that he changes his mechanics “every day,” Willis added that he’s focusing on not overfocusing, pitching to contact and avoiding the big inning, three of his big bugaboos.

“I take things one day at a time,” the left-hander said. “I’m not that complex of a guy.”

That’s what D-backs pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre told Willis in the pair’s first meeting: “Be me and have fun,” Willis said. A sampling of the D-Train’s one-liners — accompanied by his patented grin — during his nine-minute meeting with reporters:

• On aiming for more mound success: “I’m going to be like a jump shooter, just keep shooting until I find it.”

• On landing in Arizona and regaining his No. 35 uniform number: “I kind of miss the purple uniforms though, but it’s nice to be here.”

• On former teammate’s Armando Galarraga’s empty attempt at perfection this week: “He still got a free car.”

• On his “magic” as a Marlin: “There’s no sorcery or anything like that.

It was just playing good baseball.”

• On getting a chance to hit again in the National Legaue: “I don’t know. Dan Haren is the Babe Ruth of the league now. That’s a tough act to follow.”

Willis joins a club in dire need, perhaps more so now than ever considering its recent 0-9 road trip, of a true lefty capable of clever levity.

“He’s got a [lot of] life in him; he’s full of energy,” said D-backs starter Edwin Jackson, who teamed with Willis in Detroit last season before he was traded westward in December. “Maybe that’s what we need right now.”