Willis left Triple-A Norfolk and returned home with the assumption that he would be granted his release. Executive vice president Dan Duquette said the Orioles never made that promise and that Willis left without permission, leading to the grievance and some hard feelings on the pitcher’s side.
Willis will be allowed to work out as a starter, according to Sosnick, after informing team officials that his recent forearm injury was caused by his conversion to a relief role. The Orioles signed Willis with the intent to make him a lefty specialist.
“It’s insane,” Sosnick said earlier today. “I wouldn’t say I’m relieved that it’s over. I’m still confused, but ... If they just said ‘OK’ two or three weeks ago, he’d be starting at Triple-A right now. He told them he couldn’t relieve because it was hurting his arm coming back that quickly. They could have just ... whatever. Thank God for (director of baseball administration) Tripp Norton.”
Duquette claims he discussed a plan with Willis that would have allowed the left-hander to gradually build up his arm and innings in Norfolk’s bullpen, but when he returned to the Tides clubhouse after meeting with manager Ron Johnson and pitching coach Mike Griffin, Willis already had packed his gear and left the team.
Willis, 30, is 72-69 with a 4.17 ERA in parts of nine major league seasons. He was Rookie of the Year with the Marlins in 2003, but injuries led to a drop in velocity and he’s struggled to regain his command. The Phillies released him in spring training, and the Orioles signed him to a minor league deal in March.
Willis was placed on the disabled list April 12 with a strained left forearm after allowing four runs (two earned) and four hits, with two walks, in 3 2/3 innings over three appearances with the Tides. He pitched once for the Orioles in spring training before being reassigned to the minor league camp.