SARASOTA, Fla. - Executive vice president Dan Duquette confirmed today new pitcher Dontrelle Willis will make the transition to left-handed specialist, and will likely have to begin the season in the minors.
Willis held left-handers to a .127 average with the Reds last season.
“The idea is to see if he can be a lockdown left-handed reliever against left-handed hitters,” Duquette said. “Our interest in that project is lefties hit .127 off him last year, and three of the last four years he’s done very well vs. left-handed hitters.
“The other thing that’s interesting is Dontrelle Willis has had a significant major league career and he’s been a winning pitcher and placed high in Cy Young Award voting, but he’s only 30 years old, and a lot of times these left-handed relievers are just beginning their careers in their early-to-mid 30s. So if you take a look at Arthur Rhodes, for example, who made that transition and did it effectively, he was pitching up until last year. He was in the World Series. So, we’re going to give that a shot with Dontrelle Willis.”
There isn’t enough time for Willis to make the club out of spring training.
“For him to transition into the relief role, he’ll probably need some time to do that in Triple-A,” Duquette said.
The Orioles already had a lefty specialist in Clay Rapada, but they designated him for assignment and he signed with the Yankees. Willis isn’t on the 40-man roster, so he can be sent down.
Manager Buck Showalter has often stated that he didn’t have the luxury of carrying a specialist on his staff.
“Clay Rapada was our left-handed specialist, and when we added (Wilson) Betemit, we lost him,” Duquette said. “We said we were going to look around for a left-handed specialist that Buck could use against left-handed hitters, and we’re going to see if we have that in Dontrelle Willis.”
The Orioles continue to keep an eye on the waiver wire for additional pitching, “but we still have a number of players in our camp that we need to evaluate and see where they fit in on our team,” Duquette said. “Concurrently, we’ll be looking for opportunities outside the organization. But we’ve got some more work to do on our people here.”
Duquette seems content to use Ronny Paulino as the backup catcher if Taylor Teagarden begins the season on the disabled list.
“Our focus on our catchers is to get Teagarden healthy and to evaluate Paulino,” Duquette said. “It’s going to be hard to pick up another catcher this time of the year.”