Willis has a sore arm, and it shows

Dontrelle Willis blames his tired arm on the transition to relief and a new throwing program.
Dontrelle Willis blames his tired arm on the transition to relief and a new throwing program. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 08, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Dontrelle Willis pulled a red sleeve over his left arm and held nothing back. He is here to begin the next chapter of his mystifying career, and Wednesday was equally baffling.

Willis told Phillies trainers that the biceps soreness he had reported a day earlier was gone. Then, after throwing 33 lackluster pitches that yielded four runs on three hits and two walks, he stood on the mound at Bright House Field and told his pitching coach it still hurt.

"I was [terrible]," Willis said later.

In his second outing of the spring, Willis was yanked before completing an inning. He retired only two of the seven Houston batters he faced in a 10-3 Phillies loss, failed to locate whatever he threw, then revealed after the game that his left arm is tired.

"We ask for honesty," Rich Dubee said. "If a guy comes in and says he's ready to go, we have to take him for what he's worth. He'll be checked out. We'll see where we go from here."

It was a surprising turn in one of the more intriguing position battles this spring. The Phillies maintain they do not require another lefthander in addition to Antonio Bastardo. But they have six lefty relievers in camp. Willis was anointed the favorite once the Phillies signed him to a non-guaranteed $850,000 contract.

But Willis, 30, has pitched from the bullpen only three times in nine major-league seasons. Control issues derailed a career once destined for stardom, hence the Phillies' unwillingness to guarantee the contract.

With a limited chance to demonstrate his value, D-Train pitched when he should not have.

"I'm throwing nothing up there, and you can't go out there like that," Willis said. "That does nobody any good, but at the same time I always want to compete."

When asked whether he is sore or just tired, Willis said, "All of the above." He believes the transition to relief and a new throwing program could be the culprit. He will be evaluated by doctors Thursday and almost certainly will step back from his current throwing program.

That could open the door for the other lefties in camp, specifically Jake Diekman. The 25-year-old submariner has thrown to rave reviews all spring but has never pitched above double A. Could he require more seasoning?

"Time will tell," Dubee said.

Then Dubee made his intentions clear: He will not carry a second lefty for the sake of having another lefty.

"We're going to take the best team possible," Dubee said. "I don't see any reason to have a second lefty if he's not better than the righty before him. If he can't get anybody out, what kind of look is that?"

Most of Willis' ineptitude has come against righthanded hitters, who are 4 for 7 with three walks against him in Grapefruit League play. Lefties are 1 for 3 - the lone hit a single. Seven of the 13 hitters Willis has faced are non-roster players, which is even more disconcerting.

The Phillies have time to evaluate Willis, but a small portion of his $850,000 salary becomes guaranteed March 17. If he is on the roster March 31, the full sum is paid.

Dubee was confused and slightly peeved after Wednesday's game. He claimed Willis told trainers Tuesday that he had pain in his left biceps. When Dubee walked to the mound to fetch Willis, the pitcher said his left forearm was sore.

"If he's sore right now, I don't know how honest he was," Dubee said. "Maybe it did feel good when he came in and wasn't when he started going. That's a tough one to answer for me because I'm not in that body."

Willis implied he was sternly talked to after the outing.

"It's going to take a lot for me to get off that mound," he said, "so that's why they're telling me to slow down. Get under your feet with the new role and get acclimated."

Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @magelb