Posted: Tuesday April 19, 2005 1:49PM; Updated: Tuesday April 19, 2005 3:38PM
Dontrelle Willis has struck out 14 and walked just two this season.
The most dominating pitcher in baseball through the season's first two weeks is, at this moment, pondering life B.iP -- Before iPod. "How did I survive without this?" says Dontrelle Willis, the Marlins' boisterous 23-year-old left-thander, as he fools with his toy in the visiting clubhouse at Shea Stadium. Willis sucks through his teeth. "Carrying around all those CDs ... man, how did I live like that?"
It is a Saturday afternoon in sun-rinsed Queens, two days before Willis, against the Nationals in Washington, will come five innings shy of throwing the most shutout innings to begin a season in history. Willis' start -- 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in three outings -- may be stunning to the baseball world, but no one is surprised in the Marlins clubhouse. Not skipper Jack McKeon, not any of Willis' teammates, and certainly not new pitching coach Mark Wiley, who saw from Day 1 of spring training that Willis was primed for a huge season. "Dontrelle came into this season determined," says catcher Matt Treanor. "I think a lot of us were really excited by all the [free-agent] signings of the winter, and we all wanted to be a big part of what's going on here. Dontrelle was the same, I think. He came in with focus and he also came in in great shape, too."
"I feel great," says Willis. "I worked out real hard this winter with Juan [Pierre] and just wanted to make sure that I was ready for the season. It was killing me, though. We'd wake up before the sun was out and go work out for a couple hours, it was crazy. I didn't like it at all. Now I feel great, but it was really tough. I just wanted to discipline myself in some way this winter. I feel like I'm in really good shape right now. This spring I felt real good and now I feel great too."
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Before he met any Florida pitchers for the first time, Wiley poured through hours and hours of tape that featured the gifted young hurlers he'd be inheriting. With Willis, Wiley detected the lefty would overthrow in important situations with runners on base. "I just told him, be consistent with your delivery," says Wiley.
With Willis' emergence and the good health of flamethrowers Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett, the Marlins have the best trio of starters in baseball [see rankings below]. "They can be very dominant," says Mets shortstop Jose Reyes. "They don't have just one or two guys like some teams that can shut you down, they seem like they have a bunch."
In other news...
Carlos Delgado aside, no one at Shea was booed louder and more often over the weekend than Kaz Matsui, the Mets' high-priced shortstop-turned second baseman. Matsui has been an Gigli-like disaster in New York. A member of the Japanese media covering Japanese players in America told me earlier this year that Matsui is a very sensitive individual, so it'll be interesting to see how he reacts to the growing outward frustration that Mets fans feel toward him. ...
Reyes is at peace. "All last year I wasn't comfortable," says the Mets' shortstop-turned second baseman-turned shortstop. "Trying to figure out the new position, I wasn't doing so well. I'm a lot better now back at my real position, I feel relaxed, and I think it helps me in every way in my game." ...