The word out of Baltimore is that Dontrelle Willis, who burst onto the scene with the Marlins in 2003, became a fan favorite with his quirky delivery and infectious smile, and flamed out as a pitcher right after he was traded, has decided to retire.
"I think Dontrelle Willis was the reason why the Marlins won (the World Series) in 2003," said Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, who was the team's third base coach the season Willis came up from the minors as a rookie and made an instant splash. "Obviously it takes 25 guys to win the World Series. But I think this kid when he arrived to Miami, he took the pitching staff to the next level. For two or three months, he was unhittable. And then Beckett and those guys started to pick it up."
Said Josh Johnson, who was on the '06 and '07 teams with Willis: "He loved playing the game, so it comes as kind of a shock. He was impressive, could throw any pitch at any time. He is always rooting for every guy. Never played favorites. He was always cheering for everybody, wanted everybody to do well, just a good -hearted person."
When Willis and Miguel Cabrera left the Marlins in the controversial trade with the Tigers following the '07 season, he ranked as the franchise's all-time wins leader, a record that was eclipsed earlier this season by Ricky Nolasco. But he was never the pitcher with anyone else that he was with the Marlins. Willis lost his ability to throw strikes and never regained it.
The Willis that Guillen remembered with the Marlins wasn't the same pitcher he saw on the mound for Detroit when he was managing the White Sox.
"He was bad," Guillen said. "The few times he pitched against us, I thought he was hurt, and I called him to see what it was. He couldn't throw strikes and when you're not throwing strikes, you announce your retirement pretty quick. It's not just him. It's everybody. A lot of people say it was the mechanics. Well, he had the same mechanics all his life. He just couldn't find the plate."
Guillen said that Emilio Bonifacio, Edward Mujica and Juan Carlos Oviedo are all expected to begin rehab assignments later this week. Guillen said Bonifacio remains on schedule to rejoin the Marlins the first weekend after the All-Star break.
With the Home Run Derby less than a week away, Giancarlo Stanton got a feel for what it might be like when he took some practice cuts in early B.P. on Monday on Miller Park. The batting cage was rolled back (there is no shell for the Home Run Derby), and he departed from his customary practice of hitting to right by pulling most every pitch thrown to him by Joe Espada.
Stanton hit a ball off the centerfield scoreboard, crushed three off the glass-enclosed restaurant on the second level, and launched one ball over the left field bleachers and clear out of the ballpark.
"If I start trying too hard, it's going to be top-spin rollovers," Stanton said. "If I don't try to do too much, that's the only thing that's going to hurt me. But you've got to get a little bit of the feel. You just can't go the way I take B.P. and then change everything up for that day. So you've got to get a little practice when you do something like that."
The Marlins have a tough assignment tonight. Not only are they facing a team that's beaten them the last eight times they've met, but are facing Zack Greinke, who has ever lost (15-0) at Miller Park. Greinke is only the fourth pitcher since 1900 to win each of his first 15 home decisions with a team. The others: Johnny Allen (16 straight with the Yankees, 1932-33), LaMarr Hoyt (16 straight with the White Sox, 1980-82) and Kenny Rogers (15 straight with Oakland, 1998-99).
Marlins: 1. Reyes, ss; 2. Ramirez, 3b; 3. Stanton, rf; 4. Morrison, lf; 5. Ruggiano, cf; 6. Dobbs, 1b; 7. Infante, 2b; 8. Buck, c; 9. Zambrano, p.
Brewers: 1. Gomez, cf; 2. Morgan, rf; 3. Braun, lf; 4. Ramirez, 3b; 5. Hart, 1b; 6. Weeks, 2b; 7. Maldonado, c; 8. Izturis, ss; 9. Greinke.
Umpires: HP -- Derryl Cousins; 1B -- Ron Kulpa; 2B -- D.J. Reyburn; 3B -- Dan Bellino.