Winning five straight starts hasn’t hurt either.
The 21-year-old left-hander will bid for his sixth win in a row when the Marlins resume a three-game interleague series with the Florida Marlins at Pro Player Stadium.
Willis, who has just one loss in his first eight major league starts, was nearly unhittable in his last outing. He yielded one hit while striking out eight and walking one in Monday’s 1-0 victory over the New York Mets.
“I’m definitely going to enjoy this one,” said the 6-foot-4 Willis, who features a high leg kick and hides the ball until the last instant during his delivery to the plate. “They’re in our division, so whatever win we can get in our division is big.”
In his last five starts, Willis has surrendered just four runs over 37 2-3 innings, striking out 37 and walking nine. Florida manager Jack McKeon was most impressed with Willis’ last start.
“In a 1-0 game the pressure can mount on a youngster,” McKeon said. “I was praying in the dugout.”
Another Florida rookie, Miguel Cabrera, decided Friday’s series opener.
Cabrera, playing in his first major league game, hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 11th inning to lift the Marlins over the Devil Rays 3-1.
Cabrera, the most highly touted prospect in the Marlins’ organization, was called up from Double-A Carolina on Thursday. He played primarily at third base in the minor leagues, but started in left field Friday. He was 0-for-4 before homering.
Florida has won four of its last six games.
Aubrey Huff’s sacrifice fly provided the only offense for Tampa Bay, which has dropped 12 of 14.
STANDINGS: Devil Rays - 5th place, 18 1/2 GB, AL East. Marlins - 4th place, 13 GB, NL East.
DEVIL RAYS PROBABLE STARTER: Jason Standridge (0-1, 4.63 ERA). Standridge is still looking for his first career win. The right-hander, who has appeared in 12 games over the past three seasons, is winless in two starts this year, including Sunday’s 9-5 setback to Pittsburgh. Standridge did not receive a decision, yielding three runs and five hits over 5 2-3 innings, while striking out five and walking two. He is making his first career appearance against the Marlins.
MARLINS PROBABLE STARTER: Willis (6-1, 2.61 ERA). In four home starts this year, Willis is 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Devil Rays - Rocco Baldelli, .324 avg.; Huff, 15 HRs, 42 RBIs and 42 runs; Carl Crawford, 17 SBs. Marlins - Alex Gonzalez, .328 avg.; Mike Lowell, 22 HRs, 60 RBIs and 48 runs; Juan Pierre, 30 SBs.
INTERLEAGUE RECORDS: Devil Rays - 2-11. Marlins - 6-4.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Devil Rays - SS Rey Ordonez could miss the remainder of the season with a torn ligament in his left knee. The tear was diagnosed Friday by Dr. John Uribe, Ordonez’s personal physician in Miami. Ordonez has been on the disabled list since May 9 with a sprained knee. No date for surgery has been scheduled, but manager Lou Piniella said Friday “in all likelihood” Ordonez will miss the rest of the season.. … Tampa Bay has won just 11 of 29 all-time meetings with Florida. … The Devil Rays have managed just three runs in their last three games. Marlins - OF Cabrera, at 20 years, 63 days, is the second-youngest player to debut with the Marlins. Felix Heredia was 11 days younger when he made his first Marlins appearance in 1996. … Florida starters have allowed only three walks in their last 45 1-3 innings. … OF Pierre, who has been successful on 12 straight steal attempts, has a major league-leading 31 stolen bases this season.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Devil Rays - 11-26 on the road; Marlins - 21-18 at home.
INJURIES: Devil Rays - SS Ordonez (knee), 15-day DL; LHP Joe Kennedy (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Seth McClung (elbow), 60-day DL. Marlins - RHP Josh Beckett (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Toby Borland (appendicitis), 15-day DL; RHP Tim Spooneybarger (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP A.J. Burnett (elbow), 60-day DL; OF Abraham Nunez (hamstring), 60-day DL.