Slated for his final start of the season, Willis will try again for his first win since June 2010 as the Reds meet the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.
Willis won the NL Rookie of the Year award and a World Series title with Florida in 2003 - the first of five straight seasons in which he would have at least 10 wins before being traded to Detroit in 2007. In two-plus seasons with the Tigers and a brief stint with Arizona last year, Willis endured a knee injury, a recurring anxiety disorder and control issues.
While Willis (0-6, 5.04 ERA) is winless in 12 starts since being called up by the Reds on July 10, he’s also suffered some hard luck. The left-hander has been the victim of three blown saves and was scratched from last Sunday’s matchup with Milwaukee due to back spasms. If Willis can go Sunday, it would be his first appearance since being lit up for season highs of eight runs and nine hits over 3 1-3 innings of a 12-8 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 12.
He could also be the first Reds pitcher to start 0-7 since Dave Burba lost his first eight decisions in 1996.
Willis, who can become a free agent after the season, told the Reds’ official website that he’d welcome a return to Cincinnati.
“I really appreciated the opportunity that they gave me … That was another reason it was important for me to come back and pitch and finish the season healthy - not just for my sake but to tell the organization thanks. I want to finish the season healthy for them,” he said.
Willis failed to get a decision in Cincinnati’s 5-3 defeat at PNC Park on Aug. 20. He’s 2-6 with a 3.82 ERA in 11 career starts versus the Pirates.
The right-hander has dropped each of his last two starts while posting a 10.57 ERA. Facing his former team Sept. 17, McDonald gave up five runs in a season low-tying three innings of a 6-1 road loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Maybe I tried to put too much emphasis on this outing because it was the Dodgers. … It’s something I’ll learn from.” said McDonald, who has seen the bullpen blow five leads for him after the seventh inning.
McDonald is 1-0 with a 2.19 ERA in two home starts against the Reds, and 5-2 with a 3.27 ERA in Pittsburgh overall this year.
The Pirates (71-87) are trying to complete a three-game sweep of Cincinnati at PNC Park for the second consecutive season, following Saturday’s 4-3 win. While Pittsburgh is in the midst of its 19th straight losing season, it also needs one more victory for its highest total since 2004.
Brandon Phillips(notes) added three hits and Joey Votto(notes) had two run-scoring doubles for the Reds (76-82), who have dropped six of eight and will finish below .500 one year after winning the NL Central.
Phillips, who’s had three straight multihit games overall, is batting .405 (15 for 37) in the season series versus the Pirates, while Votto - the 2010 NL MVP - is hitting .350 (7 for 20) with two homers and 10 RBIs.