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Willis not worried about sophomore slump


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Willis not worried about sophomore slump

 

By Joe Capozzi, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, April 8, 2004

 

MIAMI GARDENS -- Dontrelle Willis makes his first start of the season tonight and he knows he'll be scrutinized more then ever after winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

 

"At first I thought I was going to (feel pressure to do well)," Willis said. "But just going through spring training and pitching out of a base-loaded situation, it kind of died down after each start."

 

Willis went 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA after getting called up from Class AA Carolina on May 9. He earned the nickname "D-Train" while winning seven straight starts and being named to the All-Star team.

 

Willis went 5-5 with a 4.60 ERA in the second half of the season, raising questions about whether the NL batters were catching up to his high-knee delivery.

 

Of the four pitchers who won the NL Rookie of the Year award in the past 10 years, only Kerry Wood has continued to excel. Colorado pitcher Jason Jennings won the award in 2002 after going 16-8 with a 4.52 ERA. He finished 12-13 with a 5.11 ERA last season.

 

"The jury's out on a lot of guys in their second year. I think he'll be fine," manager Jack McKeon said. "When he throws strikes, he's pretty successful. In his early success, he didn't walk many guys. Then all of a sudden his walks started increasing."

 

It takes a thief: When Marlins catcher Mike Redmond walked into the clubhouse Wednesday, McKeon greeted him by saying: "How you doin', Lou?"

 

The reference was to Lou Brock, who at one time held baseball's stolen-base record. After more than five seasons in the majors, Redmond thought he had finally swiped his first base Tuesday, but it was ruled defensive indifference because the Expos were not holding Redmond close to first base.

 

"I lost a little bit of sleep,'' Redmond said, laughing. "Not a lot.... I would like to get one, just one."

 

Opening-day firsts: Tuesday marked the first big-league opening day -- as a fan or player -- for Willis, rookie outfielder Abraham Nunez and right fielder Miguel Cabrera.

 

"I never got a chance to get out of class to go,'' said Willis, who grew up near Oakland, Calif.

 

It was McKeon's first opener since 2000 with the Cincinnati Reds. McKeon, 73, said his first big-league opener was in 1973 when he managed the Kansas City Royals.

 

"I wouldn't play hooky. No way. I'd have gotten killed,'' said McKeon, who took over as Marlins manager on May 11 last season. "I very rarely missed a day at school. There used to be a lot of pride in making perfect attendance every year.''

 

But even in school, McKeon didn't miss many games.

 

"I used to sneak a radio into class and asked to go to the bathroom every once in a while. They thought I had something wrong with me; I went to the bathroom about five times, just so I could turn the radio on and find out the score.''

 

joe_capozzi@pbpost.com

 

Good to hear that D-Train is relaxed and ready to go tonight!

 

I'm anxious to see how is refined delivery works for him.

 

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