Experiment over: Phils cut ineffectual Willis

Dontrelle Willis was attempting to convert from a starter to a reliever, but arm soreness and an inability to stay in the strike zone contributed to his release. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Dontrelle Willis was attempting to convert from a starter to a reliever, but arm soreness and an inability to stay in the strike zone contributed to his release. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer (Dontrelle Willis)
Posted: March 17, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - From 2003 through 2009, Dontrelle Willis earned roughly $41 million in major- league salary. On Friday, the Phillies saved roughly $69,000 by cutting him.

Willis' steep fall from grace will not end in a Phillies uniform, thanks to a shaky trio of outings that was interrupted by a bout with arm soreness. The 30-year-old lefthander, who helped lead the Marlins on a shocking World Series run as a rookie in 2003, had signed a non-guaranteed major-league contract in hopes of reinventing himself as a reliever. Instead, he struggled to find the strike zone.

"We just didn't feel like, from what we had seen, he was going to help us," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said before the Phillies' game against the Pirates in Bradenton on Friday.

Willis received approximately $139,000 as termination pay (30 days' salary). If he was still on the roster Saturday, he was guaranteed another 15 days' pay, which is approximately $69,000.

Willis allowed five runs in 22/3 innings this spring. He pitched a scoreless inning Thursday, but only after walking the first batter he faced on five pitches. Willis had been a starter his entire career before this spring, and the transition to the bullpen was not smooth.

He did not record a strikeout while walking four, continuing the trend of control issues that derailed a once-promising career.

The Phillies announced his release at 10:13 a.m., and Willis left the complex minutes later. A half-hour later, all that remained in his corner locker were three bats and some Phillies clothing. A large cardboard box sat in front of it.

Willis expressed optimism following Thursday's outing, but it was too little, too late.

When he induced an inning-ending double play, he pounded his left fist into his glove and said a quick prayer while skipping off the field. Ultimately, it was his last act as a Phillie.

"I take it just like a game situation because honestly it is," Willis said then. "That's the type of situation I'll get put in at [Citizens Bank Park] and Atlanta and those places, and I'm facing guys I might face in the big leagues."

Willis went 68-54 with a 3.78 ERA in 162 starts for the Marlins from 2003-07. Since then, he is 4-15 with a 6.15 ERA in 40 starts and three relief appearances. He was already gone from Bright House Field after the Phillies announced his release, and was unavailable for comment.

The Phillies have a slew of lefthanded relievers in camp, including minor-leaguers Joe Savery, Jake Diekman and Jeremy Horst and major-league veterans Raul Valdes and David Purcey. The Phillies already have six relievers who are all but locks to make the team. If they keep a seventh, it won't necessarily be a lefthander, both Amaro and pitching coach Rich Dubee said. Righthanders David Herndon and Brian Sanches are among the pitchers who will have a shot at that last spot in the bullpen.

The only guarantee is that Willis will not be part of the picture.


Inquirer staff writer Matt Gelb contributed to this article.

Contact David Murphy

at dmurphy@phillynews.com

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