SARASOTA, Fla. - There’s a new pitcher sitting in catchers row, and he’s trying to adapt to a new team and a new role.
Dontrelle Willis said he arrived here about three hours ago, already passed his physical and is ready to start working out. The Orioles signed him to a minor league contract five days after the Phillies released him and will continue his conversion to relief pitcher.
“The opportunity was definitely good and I’ve played with a bunch of these guys and against these guys, so I’ve always had a great deal of respect for them,” he said. “I’m definitely getting used to coming out of the bullpen and stuff like that. It seems like the bullpen was already set for Philadelphia, so this is another opportunity to go out there with another young, talented team and go out there and show my stuff.”
Of Willis’ 205 major league appearances, only three have come out of the bullpen.
“The one thing about it - I was just telling Adam Jones - is that the bullpen is a different beast for me as far as, in my career, I’ve never done it before,” he said. “At first, it was a little shaky, but I finally started to get my bearings and get comfortable about going out there, because everybody’s different in the bullpen - how to get ready and how to get prepared and stuff like that. I was definitely getting my bearings under my feet, so I’m going to continue to do stuff like that and get used to my role over here.”
Willis, 30, said he had other offers, “but it doesn’t matter. I’m here now.”
He’s been in a lot of places since debuting with the Marlins in 2003 and being named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.
Willis has pitched for the Tigers, Diamondbacks and Reds since 2010, and the Phillies gave him a look this spring.
Does he believe that he’s found a place to stay with the Orioles?
“I hope so, I definitely hope so, or I’ll go home. Simple as that,” he said.
“Like I said, I have fun playing baseball and the day that I don’t, I’ll go home. I have kids and a family. We’ve sacrificed a lot to be here as far as our family. But I love playing baseball and love the camaraderie and I love being around, and if I go home and somebody wants me to be a coach and get a fungo, I’ll do that, too. I don’t really look at it like that. I just love playing the game.”
Willis was bothered by a sore elbow early in Phillies camp, but he said, “I’m good now, though. Right before I got let go in Philadelphia, I was able to get into a game and get some work in. So I’ve just got to catch up with some throwing and stuff and go from there.”
If Willis can’t land a job in the Orioles’ bullpen, he’ll report to the minors and try to make a good impression - just as he did last year with Triple-A Louisville, where he was 5-2 with a 2.63 ERA in 13 starts.
“Whatever they want me to do,” he said. “It’s so late in spring training, I just want to go out there, get in some games and see how it goes and take it one day at a time. It’s tough because of the timing of me coming over here. I’m open to anything as long as I can get some good work in and go from there.
“I was able to actually reinvent myself (in the minors) because as a young guy, they swing at everything. That’s the one thing about it. You learn quickly to try to master your off-speed stuff and do stuff like that. It’s exciting. They made me feel old, because they were like, ‘I remember watching you on TV.’ And I’m like, ‘Whoa, I just turned 30.’ But they play hard, because they definitely want to get that first home run off Dontrelle. So you have fun going out there and battling, reinventing yourself. You see a lot of guys going and reinventing themselves. That’s what I did last year, going down there and starting and working on my mechanics.”
Willis traded barbs with former teammate Armando Galarraga while standing at his locker, but he’s ready to put on the uniform, get serious and head out to the field.
“I actually got here about three hours ago,” he said. “I passed my physical and will get my running in. That’s one thing about baseball. You’ve had a couple days off, you’ve got to go get back in and get your bearings and stuff.”
Willis joked that the advantage of playing for so many teams lately is he knows a few guys every place he goes. He’s especially close to Jones, though they’ve never been teammates.
“They’re excited,” Willis said. “They’re revamped. Even the ballpark here, I drove past it, it’s all new and stuff. So it’s good to come here and see guys excited and ready to work.”