Tony Gwynn: Early season surprises
Willis will try to build on three quality starts this season, but he has only managed a 1-0 record despite a 1.93 ERA. The Marlins (4-9) have only scored six runs to support the 2005 CY Young Award runner-up in the three contests.
The 24-year-old left-hander is 4-0 in five starts with a 0.97 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 37 innings against the Reds. He has also held them to a .189 batting average.
Willis is looking to stay undefeated in April during his career. He is 9-0 with a 1.91 ERA lifetime in the month.
He went 5 2-3 innings and gave up two earned runs to earn his first win in a 5-3 victory over the Washington Nationals on Friday.
“They did a great job of making me throw some pitches early,” Willis said. “After they scored their first two runs, I just wanted to keep it close and not turn into a five- or six-run inning.”
He takes the mound after the Marlins defeated the Reds 12-6 on Tuesday with his team in position to win its first series of the season. Florida dropped the opener of the three-game set 9-1 on Monday.
Rookie shortstop Hanley Ramirez belted his first two career home runs and added four RBIs in Tuesday’s win to continue his hot start to the season. He is 20-for-55 (.364) with 15 runs scored and seven RBIs in 13 games. The Marlins acquired the promising Ramirez in the offseason from the Boston Red Sox in a seven-player deal that involved pitcher Josh Beckett.
“I think I’m swinging the bat a little better than last year,” said Ramirez, who struck out in his only two at-bats for Boston in 2005. “This year I’m short and quick. Last year I was horrible.”
The Reds (8-6) look to rebound after losing three of their last four games. They started the season 7-3 before the recent stumble.
Cincinnati will start Aaron Harang, who is looking for his team-leading third win of the season.
The right-hander improved his record to 2-1 on Friday, when he pitched seven innings and struck out four in a 1-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. He held the heart of the Cardinals’ lineup—Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen — hitless in nine at-bats and provided the lone RBI of the game with a fifth-inning single.
“You can never tell if you’re going to have a good game like this,” Harang said. “I felt like I was able to execute my pitches.”
He has struggled against the Marlins, with an 0-1 mark and 6.46 ERA in three starts. He has not faced Florida since April 22, 2005, when he allowed two runs in six innings with six strikeouts, but did not factor in the decision of a 4-2 loss.
Another Red off to a good start to the season, but who struggles against the Marlins, is Austin Kearns.
The right fielder is 19-for-57 (.333) with five homers and 12 RBIs through 14 games this season. However, he is hitting .198 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 22 career games against Florida. He may find it difficult to improve on Wednesday, as he has gone 2-for-11 (.182) against Willis.