Old, familiar friend Dontrelle Willis shows up as Marlins fall to Guardians

The Marlins distributed a Dontrelle Willis bobblehead to the first 8,000 fans at Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Guardians at loanDepot park, and the D-Train, smiling as wide as ever, couldn’t have been happier with the collectible.

“I love it. They said the leg kick is a little low — it’s a Dontrelle leg kick for a 42-year-old right now,” joked Willis, who attended the game wearing a teal pinstripe throwback Marlins jersey and a black ballcap on backwards.

“Super honored. The city of Miami has always embraced me. I love this team. I didn’t go to college, so the Marlins are my frat. … I miss it here very much. I really do.”

Willis said Sunday marked the first Marlins game he has attended since coming to Miami to watch José Fernández pitch in 2016.

Famous for his unorthodox windup and delivery, Willis played for the Marlins from 2003 to 2007, quickly becoming a fan favorite his first season when he was named National League Rookie of the Year and helped the Marlins win the World Series.

Willis’ championship ring mostly remains in a safe these days.

“I don’t go anywhere cool enough to wear that beautiful, gaudy thing,” he noted. “I wear it to New York and Chicago, just to get them going. I was just at Yankee Stadium.”

Willis made three appearances against the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, throwing a combined 3 1/3 scoreless innings while allowing four hits and striking out four.

He posted a 14-6 record with a 3.30 ERA in 27 starts in ‘03, and two years later became the first — and still only — 20-game winner (22-10, 2.63 ERA) in Marlins history. After the 2007 season, Willis and Miguel Cabrera were traded to the Tigers.

Now an Emmy award-winning analyst for the Dodgers’ broadcast team who has also been a studio analyst for FOX Sports, Willis spoke before Sunday’s game to current Marlins players in the clubhouse, and some of them grabbed a bobblehead.

Among those who did: left-hander Jesús Luzardo, a South Florida native who grew up rooting for Willis and briefly tried emulating his high leg kick.

The two struck up a friendship when Luzardo was playing for the A’s and Willis, a Bay Area native, reached out to him.

“It’s awesome. It’s a blessing,” Luzardo said. “Not everyone gets a chance to talk to someone they looked up to when they were young. It’s something I like to take advantage of, talk to him as much as possible and get his opinion.”

Willis said he and Luzardo maintain a “texting relationship” and Luzardo is the Marlins player who most reminds him of himself.

“Jesús, I’m so proud of. I knew he was going to be a star,” Willis said. “Back home, he has really emerged as a leader and an ace. I hate that his name is in trade talks. I can relate to that. So, he has been talking to me about that.”

Willis said he also stays in contact with many teammates from the ’03 championship team, including best friend Juan Pierre, who’s the godfather of Willis’ four daughters, Cabrera, A.J. Burnett, and Josh Beckett.

The best lesson he learned from baseball was to “be in the moment.”

“Enjoy every single day,” Willis said. “The one regret I have in my career is that as much as I had fun, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. I didn’t. And I miss it now.”

The Marlins’ starting pitcher Sunday, Trevor Rogers, set up them up with a chance to conclude their eight-game, 10-day homestand with a win. The lefty allowed just one run on two hits in five innings, and the Marlins led 2-1 on Jazz Chisholm’s solo 440-foot home run to center in the fourth and Nick Gordon’s single in the fifth.

But the Guardians pulled even in the sixth and surged ahead on Tyler Freeman’s three-run home off Anthony Bender in the seventh, dealing the Marlins their sixth loss in seven games.

De La Cruz starts in RF

Designated hitter Bryan De La Cruz started in right field Sunday for just the second time this season, swapping roles with Jesús Sánchez.

“I feel good. I want to be more in the outfield sometimes,” De La Cruz said. “When I’m DH, I feel like an old guy. But that’s my role right now.”

That hasn’t been easy.

“I need to move [all the] time,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I feel sometimes like I want to sleep” in the dugout. De La Cruz has started 23 games in left field, but said he prefers the right side.

Upcoming starters

The Marlins’ scheduled starting pitchers vs. the Mets this week — Luzardo on Tuesday, LHP Braxton Garrett on Wednesday, and RHP Roddery Muñoz on Thursday.