Willis can't keep Bucs off bases as Tigers fall
Walk after walk after walk. Each Dontrelle Willis start is becoming the same, and the walk he dreads most is the one being made early in each game by Detroit manager Jim Leyland to take him out.
Willis fought with his control for the third consecutive start by walking eight in 3 2-3 innings, leading to all of Pittsburgh's scoring, and Robinzon Diaz drove in three runs to help the Pirates beat the Tigers 6-3 on Sunday.
Ross Ohlendorf (6-5) limited Detroit to one run and two hits over six innings for his first victory since May 18, leaving after throwing 91 pitches. The Tigers got to within 6-3 on Don Kelly's two-run single in the seventh off Steven Jackson, but lost for the second time in the three-game interleague series during a bad weekend for Detroit teams against Pittsburgh's.
Willis' eight walks - he has walked 18 in 11 innings - directly produced five runs. Craig Monroe and Eric Hinske walked with the bases loaded during a three-run first and three batters who walked eventually scored.
"You can't defend a walk," Willis said.
Since beating Texas 4-0 on May 19 by permitting only one hit over 6 1-3 innings, Willis (1-4) has fought with the control problems that led the former 20-game winner with Florida to make repeated trips to the minors. He has walked 24 in 22 2-3 innings, helping elevate his ERA to 7.49.
"I've got to find a way to get the ball in play or Skip (Leyland) is going to have to find somebody to do it. I'm going to have to kick it in gear, get it done," Willis said. "I go one step forward and two steps back and it's unacceptable the way I played."
The first inning was representative of Willis' recent struggles. Andrew McCutchen and Monroe walked around singles by Andy LaRoche and Freddy Sanchez. Hinske drew the first of his four walks to drive in another run, and Diaz followed with a sacrifice fly.
"It's amazing, one hitter he's right there and two hitters he's not close," Leyland said. "It's hard to figure out, to be honest."
Sanchez had an RBI single and Diaz had a two-run single during another three-run inning, the fourth, after McCutchen drew his second leadoff walk of the game.
Willis left after throwing only 43 of 88 pitches for strikes, giving up six hits and six runs and striking out one.
"It's a tough issue for the guy because he's been through a lot to try to get back," Leyland said. "Periodically, it's worked a little bit, but consistently, it has not."
It's been difficult for the Tigers to get Willis straightened out during work sessions between starts because he's never had an extended stretch of successful pitching during his career when his mechanics were the same.
"When he was really good, he was unorthodox," Leyland said.
Ohlendorf made his most effective start since limiting St. Louis to one run over six innings on May 13, striking out two and walking two. Matt Capps pitched the ninth for his 10th save in as many opportunities.
"Overall, I was really happy with it," Ohlendorf said. "Our offense did a great job, was real patient."
The Pirates' three-run first inning drew almost as many cheers as the pregame ceremony - captain Sidney Crosby, coach Dan Bylsma and 14 other Penguins players showing off the Stanley Cup they won by beating Detroit 2-1 in Game 7 on Friday night.
Bill Guerin, the 38-year-old forward who won his first Cup in 14 years, threw out the ceremonial first pitch with considerable velocity - later, he described it as a split-finger fastball to a left-handed batter.
Both the Tigers and Pirates wore throwback-style uniforms with wide collars to honor the 100th anniversary of the Tigers-Pirates World Series - won, coincidentally, by Pittsburgh in Game 7 in Detroit. The Pirates' uniforms featured red socks and dark blue trim, the team's predominant colors at the time.
Pirates RHP Tyler Yates, out for nearly a month with right elbow inflammation, is showing no progress. ... Willis is 2-5 in nine starts against Pittsburgh. ... The Pirates have won eight of 11 home games. ... The Pirates stranded 13 runners.