Willis looks to continue his dominance in the month of April as the Marlins open a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on Friday.
Willis has won his first two starts this season, improving to 11-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 17 career April starts. The 25-year-old left-hander is looking to improve to 3-0 through three starts for the third time in his career.
Willis won his first three starts in 2004 and his first seven the following season. His only career loss in April came last season, when he started 1-6 before rebounding to finish 12-12.
Willis—who did not record his second win until June 2 last season—went six innings on Saturday, allowing a three-run, inside-the-park home run and little else in an 8-5 victory over Philadelphia.
“This guy, he’s the best,” first-year Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez told mlb.com. “He gets through (several) jams with some pretty good hitters at the plate. He’s got the heart of a lion. He’s going to battle you, and when he doesn’t fight you when you have to pinch-hit for him in the sixth, then he is done.”
Gonzalez is returning to Atlanta after spending the previous four years as the Braves’ third-base coach under manager Bobby Cox.
“It’s going to be fun,” Gonzalez told mlb.com. “I spent a lot of time over there with those guys. I have a lot of good times and memories; it’s going to be good to spend a little time with them.”
The Marlins (5-4) are coming off a rough Wednesday—they lost 3-2 in 13 innings in the completion of a suspended game against Milwaukee and then fell 5-2 later in the day in the series finale. The losses ended a three-game winning streak for Florida.
The Braves (7-2) had their four-game winning streak snapped with Thursday’s 2-0 loss to Washington. Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones managed the only two hits for Atlanta, and staff ace John Smoltz was outpitched by Jason Bergmann.
The Braves—who had scored 24 runs in their previous four games—had not been shut out since Sept. 6, when they lost 8-0 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Mets.
Starter Mark Redman (0-1, 7.94) will look to help Atlanta bounce back in Friday’s opener. He made his Braves debut last Friday, allowing five runs and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings of an 11-1 loss to the New York Mets.
Redman won a career-best 14 games in his only season with Florida in 2003, helping the Marlins win their second World Series title. The Braves signed him as a free agent during spring training after Mike Hampton, who is now out for the season with a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow, suffered a strained oblique.
Redman has made just two career starts against Florida, earning a 2.08 ERA without receiving a decision in those outings.