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I made a lot of predictions before the season started. One of the predictions was completing writing off Justin Verlander. Another was Dontrelle Willis contributing the same amount to fantasy teams this year as Barry Bonds. In fact, I lit into both Verlander and Willis in this post about how great Ricky Nolasco was going to be 80 days before the season began. Yikes. I have been wrong about some things, but I botched nothing worse than the Tigers players. I had Carlos Guillen being picked higher than Verlander for crying out loud. So rather than try to pretend none of that ever happened and be wrong a second time I just asked Mike from The Daily Fungo, a very detailed Tigers blog about everything I just don’t get.

FBHS: Dontrelle Willis looked good in his latest start against a very good lineup, and more than just Tigers fans had to feel good for him. He got the lead off hitter in all 7 innings he pitched and threw a lot more change ups in this start. Give me the % chance that Dontrelle manages to stay in the rotation for the rest of the season?

DF: I’d say 80 percent. If he continues to pitch anywhere near the level he’s doing so now, Dontrelle is in the rotation to stay. What’ll be interesting to watch is whether or not the pressure decreases or increases throughout the season. I wrote that I thought for Dontrelle’s first start (in Minnesota on May 13) he should’ve been given a mulligan no matter how it ended up. The focus on him was so intense — and the Metrodome so unfriendly for the Tigers in recent years — that I believed it would be his second start that showed what he’s got. Miraculously, I ended up being right. For now.

FBHS: You recently wrote a happy birthday to Brandon Inge on your blog. He’s 32. After hitting .205 with an OPS of .672 in 2008 he’s a fine wine in 2009. The numbers from April to May have tilted back to normalcy. With a lot of home runs and not many doubles was this guy just getting lucky in the first place?

DF: Brandon Inge is an interesting player. In 2006, he showed pop that he’d never before displayed in Detroit. Lucky for him, he was able to parlay it into a fat contract extension. The past two seasons were abysmal for Inge and the reasons — at least what you could read in the papers — ranged from him being inflexible to suggestions from hitting coach Lloyd McClendon to his unhappiness being replaced at third base in 2008, first by Miguel Cabrera and then Carlos Guillen. This season, Inge noticeably changed his stance at the plate and is crushing the ball like he did in ’06. What’s more, he regained his job at third. Some are saying, too, that he and McClendon finally clicked and that’s why he’s become more productive — and more in line with what the Tigers thought they were getting when they signed him to the extension.

FBHS: Speaking of being terrible in 2008, what has been the biggest difference in Justin Verlander in 2009? I completely wrote the guy off going into this season. Was that an oops or will I be right in the long view on this?

DF: A couple of things are coming together for Verlander — he’s maturing and he’s got some mechanics figured out. Everything went right for him 2006 and ’07 — a Rookie of the Year Award, the no-hitter in ’07 — but last year the thinking was he expected to walk out there and win every time. It seemed that after each loss, he’d make excuses. Jim Leyland got tired of that real quick and essentially told the media that Verlander needs to look in the mirror for some of his poor performances. So, a different, more-focused mindset — he now talks to no one on the days he starts — and some tweaked mechanics seem to have put him back on the Cy Young-caliber path.

2 Responses to Tiger Surprises: Justin Verlander and Dontrelle Willis

  1. slatkin says:

    “I’d say 80 percent. If he continues to pitch anywhere near the level he’s doing so now, Dontrelle is in the rotation to stay.”

    If he pitches near the level he’s pitching now, wouldn’t it be 100 percent? Wasn’t the question actually will Dontrelle continue to pitch at or near the level he is now?

  2. Mike McClary says:

    The question as stated to me — and above — was: “Give me the % chance that Dontrelle manages to stay in the rotation for the rest of the season?”

    The other 20% accounts for injury, bullpen needs and Jim Leyland’s mood on any given day.

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