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Waiting for Beckett (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday March 11, 2008 11:43AM; Updated: Wednesday March 12, 2008 8:58AM
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Dontrelle Willis
Dontrelle Willis has bought his signature windup to Detroit but hopes to have left his low run-support back in Florida.

3. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers. Five years after being selected in the first round of the draft and after serving an old-school bullpen apprenticeship last season, Billingsley, 23, is primed for stardom. In roughly the equivalent of a full season of pitching (237 innings), Billingsley is 19-9 in his career with a 3.49 ERA. The Dodgers will use him as their No. 4 starter behind Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Hiroki Kuroda. If Billingsley can continue to cut his walks and be more efficient with his pitches, he'll have the breakout year the offensively challenged Dodgers will need.

4. Pedro Martinez, Mets. People like to think Martinez, at 36, isn't a strikeout pitcher anymore and is more of a finesse guy. Well, over the past two seasons, with his arm in various states of repair and recovery, Martinez still whiffed 169 batters in 160 2/3 innings. Now, at just about optimum health, he seems thrilled to draft behind ace Johan Santana in the New York rotation.

Just don't expect the Mets to use him like a horse; they never have. New York has given him extra rest (at least five days) for 38 of his 60 starts with the team, including 20 of his past 28. That careful approach may limit his overall starts, but that doesn't mean you should rule out a third career 20-win season for a guy with a .692 lifetime winning percentage.

5. Dontrelle Willis, Tigers. A good rule of thumb when a pitcher jumps from the NL to the AL is to add half of a run to his ERA. That would bump Willis' number to a staggering 5.67. But here is one case where a change of scenery might actually have some meaning to it.

Willis was the Marlins' meal ticket. He made every one of his starts for five years in Florida, usually carrying the psychological load of a gate attraction and the team's best chance to win in a five-day period. By last season Willis and his stuff looked worn down.

If you cut into his numbers, you find he actually pitched better than the league average when the Marlins found him an extra day of rest (4.12). But they could do so only 10 times. Also, Florida scored three or fewer runs for him 13 times. I'm guessing that won't happen with the Tigers.

Don't expect Willis to contend for the ERA title, but he should be renewed by the productive Tigers offense and the lighter burden, especially with Verlander there as the prototypical ace. What is most alarming about Willis is an increase in his walks the past two seasons, from 2.1 per nine innings in 2005 to 3.3 in 2006 to 3.8 last year.

But he's still only 26 -- younger than Oakland's Rich Harden and Joe Blanton -- so he's likely to get better. Willis said in spring training his goal this season is to cut his walks. That's exactly the kind of smart thinking that started Beckett on his way last year.

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