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Around the Horn: Starting rotation


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The following is the first in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Starting rotation.

 

MIAMI -- The names may have changed, but the Marlins' philosophy to build around stellar starting pitching remains the same.

 

Just because the rotation no longer boasts flamethrowing right-handers Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett doesn't mean there aren't quality arms in the organization. Many are simply untested.

 

They will be asked to grow up in a hurry this spring.

 

Anchoring a retooled staff is rising star Dontrelle Willis, the National League Cy Young Award runner-up in 2005. Much is expected of the D-Train, who turns 24 on Jan. 12.

 

A year ago, Willis paced the Major Leagues with 22 wins in a brilliant campaign where he lost 10 games while boasting a 2.63 ERA. The Alameda, Calif., resident logged 236 1/3 innings, posting seven complete games and five shutouts.

 

With all the offseason changes, Willis assumes the role of being an ace on a staff that promises to be very young in age and lacking in experience.

 

New manager Joe Girardi makes no secret over the fact he has high hopes for the high-kicking left-hander.

 

"My expectation of him is to be a leader, and from everything I know about him, talking to him, he already is a leader," Girardi said. "So that point is not going to change. The way he works, the way he carries himself, he's a leader. You talk about makeup, he's a 10."

 

A two-time All-Star since he made his big-league debut in May 2003, Willis has blossomed into one of the game's elite young pitchers. With a 46-27 career record, he is three victories shy of matching Burnett's franchise record of 49 wins.

 

A year ago, Willis opened the season as the fourth starter. Now, he moves to the front of the rotation. While expectations are enormous for Willis, Girardi understands the importance of not having his ace think he must carry the team.

 

"I just want him to be himself," Girardi said. "Don't try to do too much -- because I'm not going to let you do too much -- because it's my job to make sure that he doesn't get away from what he does and who he is."

 

Willis is one of those unique athletes who brings out the best in his teammates. His ability to hit, play defense and hold runners on have been big reasons he's been able to win so many games at a young age. He batted .261 with one home run, 11 RBIs and 14 runs last year.

 

Aside from Willis, the rest of the rotation is up for grabs. Essentially, the club has about eight pitchers competing for four spots. Two favorites at this stage are veteran Brian Moehler, who re-signed as a free agent, and left-hander Jason Vargas, who pitched admirably after being called up from Double-A last July.

 

Also in the mix are Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, Sergio Mitre, Yusmeiro Petit, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco.

 

"It's a nice problem to have," Girardi said. "Most teams would love to have that now. A lot of teams would probably like to have eight veterans. But we have eight young kids that have a chance to develop."

 

Aside from the 34-year-old Moehler, the next oldest starting candidate is Mitre, who turns 25 in February.

 

Vargas is 22, and Olsen and Johnson will turn 22 in January. Nolasco is 23, while Petit and Sanchez are 21.

 

"What I like about it is they have a chance to push each other," Girardi said. "To me, the accountability to each other is more important than accountability to anyone else in that room. And when they are pushing each other, I think you create a very healthy environment."

 

Possessing so many young starting candidates (and more are coming up through the Minor Leagues) puts the Marlins in an envious position. A change the staff faces is trying to be successful while developing.

 

Moehler has 168 career starts at the big-league level, by far the most of the rotation contenders. The rest of the candidates have combine for 129 starts, with 93 of those by Willis. Mitre has 18 starts, followed by Vargas (13), Olsen (4) and Johnson (1).

 

For the Marlins to enjoy success in 2006, the organization will need its young starters to mature quickly, the way Willis did.

 

http://florida.marlins.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/...t=.jsp&c_id=fla

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I like this, he has been the face of the rotation for the last two years believe it or not. He was the guy I'd rather see pitch every fifth day. So full of energy, he always gave the team a chance to win everytime out....Willis, is a natural born entertainer, and leader, if he isn't signed long term after this season, I will be pissed. Great article! Dontrelle is the man!

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Well he was more or less the ace of the staff last season, except now he is THE guy. I think he'll handle it like he's always handled his role with this team. :thumbup

 

 

The primary difference is now DTrain will face other teams Aces and top of the rotation pitchers more often than last year. There is a certain pressure that comes with being the Ace. Sure he threw like one last year, but now he is expected to be the Ace.....BIG difference.

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I like this, he has been the face of the rotation for the last two years believe it or not. He was the guy I'd rather see pitch every fifth day. So full of energy, he always gave the team a chance to win everytime out....Willis, is a natural born entertainer, and leader, if he isn't signed long term after this season, I will be pissed. Great article! Dontrelle is the man!

 

 

I agree totally with your point but want to mention it doesn't seem to matter whether he signs long-term or not because he could get traded the very next year anyways w/o a no-trade. I am looking forward to the season but am still disgusted at what has happened the past two months. I thought we would at least keep Loduca to help the young staff but that didn't even happen. I agree that Willis has been awesome ever since he came up except for some rough starts in '04.

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If he does resign, after all this experience he should ask for a no-trade clause, if the marlins are serious about rebuilding they'll make him part of their future. That should be no problem, I remember an article where Dontrelle said he wanted to be one of those rare ball players like back then that spent their whole career with just one team....very classy, and he may get his wish....not a bad way to dream...

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