Willis (1-1, 3.75 ERA) has surprisingly been Detroit’s most consistent starter, and was spectacular Thursday in a 3-0 home win over Minnesota, allowing four hits over six-plus innings.
He struck out six for his highest total since 2007 and matched his win total over the previous two injury-plagued seasons for the Tigers (16-11).
“The sun shines on anybody,” said Willis, who has the lowest ERA among Tigers starters. “If you work hard and humble yourself, I like your chances. It’s a good feeling, but I’m not content. I think I can put together a nice season.”
The game marked Willis’ second career start against the Twins and first victory. Minnesota, however, didn’t give all the credit to the left-hander.
“He got the ball over when he needed it, but we were too impatient when we got ahead in the count,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We had a couple chances to let him get himself into trouble, and we didn’t take them.”
Mauer missed his third straight game Monday, although his bruised left heel is improving. He was injured Friday and has what the team is calling a deep bone bruise.
Mauer is listed as day-to-day. Gardenhire says Mauer is still sore, “but he’s better than yesterday.”
Wilson Ramos(notes) got his second straight start at catcher in Mauer’s place and had three hits in a 10-4 victory Monday that snapped Detroit’s five-game win streak. Ramos got four hits in his major league debut Sunday.
“He’s picked us up big time right now offensively,” Gardenhire said. “You lose the best hitter in the game and you’ve got a young man stepping up and driving the baseball and also calling a good game and working with our pitchers.”
Minnesota (17-9) improved to 7-3 at Target Field as it seeks to win its first four series in the new ballpark. The Tigers played their first game in Minneapolis since losing 6-5 in 12 innings at the Metrodome in the one-game playoff for the AL Central title last year.
Twins starter Nick Blackburn(notes) (1-1, 6.85) has failed to pitch past the fifth inning in each of his last two outings - both against Kansas City. He lasted 4 1-3 innings and gave up a season-high six runs April 24 in a 9-7, 12-inning victory.
The right-hander is back with the club after going on the family medical emergency list and missing his scheduled outing Friday.
Cabrera had two hits Monday after going 1 for 12 in last week’s series against the Twins.