The D-Train started off promisingly, retiring the first six Boston hitters he faced. But it unraveled quickly in the third inning. He hit Jacoby Ellsbury with a pitch after getting ahead of him 0-2, and the disaster was under way. Willis walked Julio Lugo in five pitches. Escape seemed possible after he struck out George Kottaras, but he then walked Dustin Pedroia on four pitches (two of which, to be fair, were borderline strikes). Five pitches later, he walked J.D. Drew. (Again, three of those pitches were close.) Run scores. Finally, Willis walked Kevin Youkilis on another five pitches to bring in another run, and his day was over.
No, he wasn't as wild as he's been in some of his more terrifying efforts. There weren't any pitches two feet outside of the strike zone that sent a catcher lunging for the baseball. As mentioned, several of those balls were right on the edge. (According to MLB Gameday, anyway.) Maybe Jeff Nelson just wasn't the right home plate umpire for him today. And of the five runs Willis was charged with, three of them scored on two hits allowed by Zach Miner.
I'd love to believe that it really wasn't so bad. But come on. It was exactly the sort of inning we live in fear of every time Willis pitches. Five runs, five walks, no hits. Even on the rare occasions he's done well, watching one of his performances is still like watching a horror movie. You know something bad is going to happen, but you just don't know when. And the terror just has you so tensed up that the slightest move or sound will make you jump. That can be fun when you pay for the thrills. But no one bought tickets to see this.
If the Tigers are going to be a playoff contender, Willis cannot remain in their starting rotation. And maybe he shouldn't be on their major league roster, either. Even the Washington Nationals would designate Willis for assignment right now. No other team is dealing with the kind of meltdown he had this afternoon. No one else struggles with that feeling of dread the second that something goes wrong.
Congratulations, Dontrelle. You pitched well enough in the first four years of your career to get a $29 million contract. You benefited from a career-worst decision by a general manager and owner who felt they needed to push their team through an open championship window before it closed. You got to cash in on a 22-win season that took place four years ago. Kudos to you, sir. But this has been a massive failure. Seriously, man - you and the Tigers should be done professionally.