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The Tigers walk a razor's edge...as does Dontrelle Willis

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The Tigers saying Willis has regained his command doesn't make it so.
The Tigers saying Willis has regained his command doesn't make it so.

The Tigers have been walking the razor's edge in the early days of the season. The fact teams as bad as the Indians and the Royals have come close to pushing them off said razor's edge is cause for concern, as Kurt has noted.

Yet they've managed to put together a 6-2 record, due to late inning heroics...and the opposition's lousy bullpens.

Come from behind baseball is fun to watch. But it's also nerve wracking and not exactly sustainable over 162 games.

Over the first 3 series, the Tigers have played some very ragged baseball against a pair of 2nd division teams. Ragged or not, wins are wins, and I'm not going to discount any of them to this point. We learned last season one extra win in April would have meant the Tigers don't have to play game 163 in October.

I NEVER want to live through something as heartbreaking ever again.

Even though the Tigers have yet to play their best baseball, timely hitting late in games and almost uniformly excellent performances out of the bullpen have gotten them off to a good start, record-wise. For the most part, the defense has been solid, save for one thing. Could you use 2 HANDS next time, Miggy?

But there's one part of the game I've haven't touched on, the starting pitching. Calling it uneven over the first 8 games is an understatement.

After Tuesday's win, the Detroit News' Lynn Henning called out the most uneven of the Tigers' starting pitchers, Dontrelle Willis.

They took him north after a scary spring training. They're obliged to give him every chance possible to get command of his control and become a reliable starting pitcher.

But it can't be easy. Tuesday's outing was an ordeal: 104 pitches in five innings. Pitchers who can't get ahead of hitters take a toll on their teammates' nerves, to say nothing of a manager's.

I don't often agree with Henning. And by often, I mean...never. But in this case, I have only one thing to say.

DUH.

Actually, I do have more to say...but it's after the jump.

Henning states something else that is plain as day. Willis isn't going to survive against better competition throwing 100+ pitches in 5 innings

It's all a matter of the strike zone. He must -- must -- begin to find it more regularly.

What the Tigers haven't said is what is obvious: Against teams other than Kansas City, Willis can't survive. He can last five wobbly innings against the seriously challenged Royals, but he won't get out of the first inning against the better teams on tap.

Henning is only pointing out what the Tigers blogoshpere has been saying since it first appeared Willis was going to get the benefit of the doubt from the Tigers' brass early in spring training,

When it comes to Dontrelle Willis imploding, it's not a matter of if, but when.

The implosion damn near happened against the Royals.

All of us on the BYB editorial staff were a big part of the implosion chorus, waving a red flag towards Comerica Park. Which is why all Hell broke loose (relatively speaking) when it was announced Willis was going north with the team.

Tuesday's performance by Willis may have been the red flag for the Tigers. Jim Leyland said as much to MLB.com's Jason Beck after the game.

"I don't want to sit here and, because we won a game, get all excited that I think Dontrelle's home free," Leyland said. "I'm not saying that at all. He's got to get better, and we're going to put him out there. At some point, he's got to get better."

Leyland then tried to soften what he said, saying the Willis situation is "sensitive" and his pitches "move." (Sure they move...nowhere near the strike zone, but they do move!)

"Sometimes you walk on eggs, because it's been a sensitive situation ... but I do think it's a possibility that he could be all right," Leyland said. "He's got plenty of movement. If he starts pitching 0-1, 1-1, 1-2 instead of 2-0, he gives himself a chance. His stuff at times is good, and other times it's just OK. It kind of fluctuates. But he does change speeds by design. I mean, he knows what he's doing. It's just a matter of commanding."

Command is something we have yet to see from Willis. Not in spring training, not in his 2 regular season starts. He allows too many baserunners...period.

I realize we're talking about a 5th starter, and the Tigers have won both of Willis' starts. He's been, to quote Kurt again, "adequate."

But the Tigers' rotation is so young and loaded with question marks (How will Rick Porcello hold up after his rookie season workload? Is Max Scherzer ready to step up as a top of the rotation pitcher? Has Jeremy Bonderman recovered from 2 season's worth of major injuries?), they may need more from their bottom of the rotation to than most teams.

With their curious mix of talent (unproven youth, rapidly aging vets and a budding, if enigmatic, superstar who must be their best player), this Tigers team will walk the razor's edge all season.

My fear is Dontrelle Willis is going to dull the edge, and it's going to get bloody.