After a successful 2010 debut, the left-hander should be happy to see the Royals again.
Kansas City snapped the Detroit Tigers’ four-game winning streak in the series opener, but the host Tigers hope to bounce back Tuesday behind Willis in the second of three straight afternoon games against the Royals.
Willis (0-0, 3.00 ERA) walked 63 in 57 2-3 innings over 15 total appearances in his first two seasons with Detroit. Before Thursday, he hadn’t pitched since June 14 while dealing with social anxiety disorder.
However, the 2002 NL Rookie of the Year, who finished second in the Cy Young Award voting with Florida in 2005, walked just two in six innings of a 7-3 win at Kansas City. He allowed two runs and seven hits while striking out four.
“He’s got to build on this one,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “This one was OK. It wasn’t great, but it was OK. I’ve kind of stayed away from making any fuss one way or the other. Treat him the way you do everybody else. If you do the job, you pitch. I’m excited for him. I’m happy for him.
“He’s got every teammate pulling as hard as you could pull for everybody. It’s great to see.”
Facing Kansas City (3-4) for the first time may have helped Willis, considering the Royals ranked 27th in the majors in walks last year. That was an improvement after they were last in 2008 and 29th in ’07.
“He wasn’t quite as wild as we expected him to be or as he’s been in some of his past,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said. “He threw enough strikes for us to have to be ready.”
Kansas City drew five walks and had 15 hits Monday, winning 10-5 despite hitting into double plays in each of the first three innings.
“We’ll take a game like this,” Hillman said. “They made some big defensive plays early, but we kept getting quality at-bats, and they eventually paid off. We haven’t had a good two-out approach in the first few games of the season, so I’m happy to see that change today.”
Four shutout innings from the Royals’ bullpen may have been an equally promising sign, as Kansas City’s relievers allowed 14 runs in 9 1-3 innings as the team dropped two of three to the Tigers at home last week.
Brian Bannister(notes) (0-0, 1.50) allowed one run and six hits in six innings while opposing Willis on Thursday, with the Royals’ Dusty Hughes(notes) and Luis Mendoza(notes) combining to give up six runs in the final two innings.
Bannister has a 2.01 ERA in seven career starts against the Tigers and will be happy to return to Comerica Park, where he has gone 3-0 with a 0.45 ERA.
The Tigers (5-2) swept Cleveland over the weekend to open their home schedule, but Leyland called his team “kind of blah” Monday. Detroit made four errors, doubling its season total and snapping a streak of four games without one.