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Berardino Giving Props to D-Train


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BERARDINO: Willis on track in Big Train country

Published April 19, 2005

 

WASHINGTON -- Back in the Roaring Twenties, Walter "Big Train" Johnson ruled these parts.

 

In a career that spanned 21 seasons, all with the Washington Senators, the hard-throwing right-hander won 417 games and pitched the franchise to its only World Series title in 1924.

 

Monday night, 78 years after Johnson's retirement, another pitching locomotive pulled into town. And while Dontrelle Willis is still 390 wins shy of Johnson, the D-Train put on a show for six-plus innings that would have made his mode-of-transportation forebear proud.

 

Three starts this season. Three victories for the Marlins' incomparable lefty.

 

Monday's 9-4 win came against the newly formed Washington Nationals. It was the second time in less than a week Willis had beaten them, and it was the first loss in four tries for the Nationals at RFK Stadium.

 

Last Wednesday in South Florida, Willis threw a three-hit shutout at them. Monday the Nationals scratched out but six hits and three runs off Willis.

 

None of the runs scored until it was already 9-0 in the seventh. Before Jose Vidro's leadoff homer, Willis had retired 12 in a row and 18 of 19.

 

"He had his stuff working, just like he did in Florida," Nationals left fielder J.J. Davis said. "He probably would have beaten most teams tonight. You don't get two shutouts back to back being sorry, you know what I mean?"

 

Used to be facing Willis twice in so short a span was supposed to rob him of his greatest advantage. No longer.

 

For a while Monday, he threatened to become the first pitcher to open a season with a trio of shutouts since Luis Tiant with the 1966 Cleveland Indians. Willis did this by taking everything the Nationals knew about him from two-plus years in the major leagues and turning it upside down.

 

"He pitched a lot different from the first time we faced him," Davis said. "Last time he threw mainly fastballs. This time he was throwing a lot of changeups and sliders and off-speed stuff. He changed his pattern."

 

In other words, he out-thought the opposition. Beat the Nats with his brain as much as his arm.

 

"I had a different scouting report on him," Davis admitted. "I thought when he got ahead in the count, that's when he starts to use his off-speed stuff. But he came out of the chute off-speed."

 

Tiant, another hurler with a few twists, turns and surprises in his arsenal, beat the Red Sox, A's and Yankees on his run. In his fourth start he lost 8-3 to the Orioles and failed to complete the third inning.

 

El Tiante finished that year just 12-11, in part because he was moved to relief. No one expects Willis to leave the Marlins' rotation anytime soon.

 

Fourth starter? At 23, Willis is pitching well enough to be the ace of most staffs.

 

"You can't hit what you can't see," the Big Train was fond of crowing. Johnson was referring to his overpowering fastball, the likes of which only Smokey Joe Wood could match among contemporaries.

 

Willis won't overwhelm anyone with sheer velocity, but the D-Train still leaves opposing batters just as bedazzled in his own way.

 

His gifts are movement and deception, the sort of legerdemain that comes with a long frame and a gawky delivery you couldn't duplicate without a yearlong pass to your neighborhood chiropractor.

 

Just as it was in 2003, Willis' mound approach is back to all knees, elbows and visual chaos. He is back to being the pitcher who captivated the nation after his promotion from Double-A that May.

 

And to think, a year ago the Marlins were trying to "fix" the delivery of the reigning National League Rookie of the Year. Willis, it was decided, had to "smooth things out" in order to thrive long-term.

 

All that thinking got them was a 10-11 record from Willis, a four-plus ERA and a full season in which he never strung together three quality starts.

 

Monday Willis ended that streak even as his 24-inning scoreless streak died as well. His ERA soared to (gasp) 1.12.

 

You might say this collaboration with new pitching coach Mark Wiley is working out fairly well.

 

Here's something else Johnson liked to say: "I throw as hard as I can when I have to throw as hard as I can."

 

Willis, baseball wise beyond his years, is just as judicious. He has learned to put a little on, take a little off and pitch to all four quadrants of the strike zone.

 

He has learned the importance of throwing strike one and being himself and not messing with success.

 

He is just Dontrelle being Dontrelle, and that's more than enough to win on most nights.

 

Mike Berardino can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

 

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It's pretty obvious that he (above any other single 'individual') has made South Florida baseball relevant, which, in my mind begs the question: is this Dontrelle's team, and if not, when will it be?

 

Either way, gotta give the D-Train all the respect he deserves, and it's a hell of a lot.

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Great read! I think before the beginning of the season, there were some questions as to whether Dontrelle could build upon the success that he had two years ago and early last season and really solidify this pitching staff being the fourth starter. He has only made this pitching staff more formidable and is helping to bring them into the forefront as one of the best rotation in baseball PERIOD.

 

 

 

Dontrelle, I salute you! :notworthy

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Even when he struggles, DTrain is one and will be one of my favorite ball players of all time.

 

This kid is humble, and will give you 100% of every bone and blood.

 

I have never heard any negative comments about the team, management, or peers come out of Dontrelle's mouth.

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