Willis will take the mound, and face former teammate Juan Pierre for the first time, when the teams meet in the second game of a three-game set on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old left-hander is 2-0 with a 1.01 ERA in four starts at Wrigley Field, striking out 23 in 26 2-3 innings. Eight of those strikeouts have come with runners in scoring position, situations in which the Cubs are 2-for-17 (.118) against him at Wrigley.
Willis (1-0, 2.92 ERA) was originally an eighth-round draft choice by the Cubs in 2000. He was one of four players dealt to the Marlins in May 2002 for pitchers Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement, who are no longer with the team.
Willis, runner-up for the 2005 NL Cy Young Award, is looking to remain undefeated in April for his career. He is 9-0 with a 2.20 ERA during the month.
The Marlins (5-12) underwent an offseason salary purge that reduced their payroll to the lowest in the major leagues at $14.34 million, less than half of the next-lowest team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with $35.4 million.
The Cubs (11-7) benefitted from Florida’s salary reduction, acquiring Willis’ friend Pierre in a four-player trade.
In his first game against his former team, Pierre doubled to lead off the Cubs’ six-run eighth inning as they rallied for a 6-3 victory.
Pierre, hitting .280 with seven steals, has never previously faced Willis. They both helped Florida win the World Series in 2003, a title run which included an NL championship series win over the Cubs.
“It’s going to be weird, a guy you went to battle with and played behind so much, now you’re trying to get hits off him and trying to beat him,” Pierre said. “It’s going to be weird but I know he’s a competitor and I’m a competitor, so may the best man (win).”
Another new addition to the Cubs came through for them on Monday as Jacque Jones completed the comeback with a three-run homer. The right fielder has struggled at the plate, hitting .209 with three homers and eight RBIs, and the fans had been showing their frustration by booing Jones.
“I tried not to pay attention when things are bad,” said Jones, who joined the Cubs in January as a free agent. “It’s so loud and so angry right now. You know what I mean? It’s almost funny.”
Rookie left-hander Sean Marshall (1-0, 6.28) gets his fourth start of the season for Chicago. He pitched five innings on Wednesday, giving up two runs and not getting a decision in a 5-4 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Todd did a good job playing first base in spring training,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “He likes playing first base. He’ll play first most of the time and second base some of the time.”
Walker leads the team with a .385 batting average and has driven in 12 runs.