Willis ready for much-anticipated return

Willis ready for much-anticipated return

MINNEAPOLIS -- As Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Dontrelle Willis last week, it's time to find out.

All the scrutiny about what Detroit should do with Willis, how it can fit him into its plans, what happened last year, what exactly was his anxiety disorder, what happens with his contract, becomes secondary Wednesday. The primary concern with Willis -- not just for the Tigers, but for the rest of baseball -- turns to the mound in the Metrodome, as Willis turns his attention to the Twins in the batters' box.

It's right where Willis wants the attention. He wants to find out, too.

"I'm just excited to play," Willis said. "I don't care if it's indoor or outdoor. I'm just excited to go out there and compete and try to win a ballgame. I'm the same as if I was in a high school game as far as me being excited to go out there and get a chance to play."

Willis is excited, but he is not content.

Willis compares his last couple months to a traveling circus, what with the attention that has followed him with each outing. His Spring Training performances were put under a microscope, and his final outings in the spring were viewed as if they could be his last. His most recent game appearance in a Tigers uniform actually came in extended spring training.

Since then, his road back has sounded like a Johnny Cash song. He's been to Lakeland, Fla., to Erie, Pa., to Allentown, Pa., then on to Pawtucket, R.I. He flew back from Pawtucket and hooked up with the Tigers in Cleveland before taking a charter flight with the rest of the team here. And somewhere during the time in Spring Training, he had a trip to Detroit to be examined by doctors.

"It's been a traveling circus," Willis said. "I've been everywhere. Trust me, it's not as bad as what it seems, but I want to be a traveling circus in that big league uniform, like everybody else."

Actually, Willis could probably do without the circus part. If he's traveling with the team and pitching like he believes he's capable, maybe it won't be a circus. Yet after the control problems and moves over the past year, it's going to be a comeback story no matter what happens.

In that sense, the simple comeback of rejoining the Tigers should give some sense of accomplishment for Willis. Because as the Tigers broke camp and headed north at the end of Spring Training, it wasn't certain that Willis would pitch in a Major League uniform again, let alone wearing the old English D.

The biggest change to come out of Willis' stint on the disabled list, he said, is the ability to not worry about perception anymore. That includes not only his pitching, but the perception of his anxiety disorder.

"I'm a guy that shoots from the hip. I was just playing bad," Willis said. "And that happens. I'm not a doctor. I'm not trying to be a doctor. I'm trying to be a baseball player. I'm not getting into that.

"Even when I went on the DL, I felt fine. You can ask anybody in here. I'm not a depressed guy. Maybe I'm hard on myself, but I wouldn't have gotten here if I wasn't. But there's a fine line to knowing what you can control and what you can't control. As far as how I feel, I don't have a condition. My condition is me going out there and playing baseball and having fun. If God doesn't want me to do it, then I'll find something else to do."

After all Willis has been through over the last year, he's willing to accept that possibility. He just isn't quite ready for it yet. This comeback isn't just about Wednesday's start, but the start after that, and the turn after that.

"Now that I'm up here, I'm not content," Willis said. "I want to continue to play, get myself settled in, what have you."

It's time to find out if Willis can do it. The difference now is that he isn't going to judge himself on every pitch.

"Whatever the outcome may be, I'm going to really go out here and enjoy this game of baseball," Willis said. "Only a few of us to get to play until we're 35, and I'm not Tom Glavine, so I'm going to enjoy this."

Pitching matchup
DET: LHP Dontrelle Willis (Season debut)
Willis will be activated to make his first start of the season after spending the past month and a half on the 15-day disabled list with an anxiety disorder. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Willis will not be on any sort of pitch count -- he threw 118 pitches in his final rehab start for Triple-A Toledo. In that start, Willis gave up two runs in 7 2/3 innings, fanning four and walking four. The left-hander has only made one appearance against the Twins, giving up one run in an inning of relief.

MIN: LHP Glen Perkins (1-2, 3.73 ERA)
Perkins went six innings in his last start against the Orioles. The left-hander allowed four earned runs on five hits while striking out two. Perkins went 2-1 with a 2.73 ERA in four starts against the Tigers last season. The Twins are 2-4 in his starts in 2009.

Tidbits
Detroit made room for Willis on the 25-man roster by designating right-handed reliever Juan Rincon for assignment. Rincon, who made the team out of Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, has three days to decide whether to accept an outright assignment to Triple-A Toledo or become a free agent. ... Willis will be the Tigers' first left-handed starter this season. ... The Tigers are expected to decide Wednesday whether to send out Jeremy Bonderman on a Minor League rehab assignment now or wait a little while longer. Bonderman threw 87 pitches in an extended Spring Training game Monday and felt fine, according to Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand. ... Placido Polanco has a 10-game hitting streak, during which Gerald Laird is in an 0-for-21 slump. Laird is 1-for-35 over his last 11 games.

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Up next
• Thursday: Tigers (Justin Verlander, 3-2, 4.50) at Twins (Scott Baker, 1-4, 6.83), 1:10 p.m. ET
• Friday: Athletics (Dallas Braden, 3-4, 2.79) at Tigers (Edwin Jackson, 2-2, 2.60), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Athletics (Brett Anderson, 0-3, 5.79) at Tigers (Rick Porcello, 3-3, 4.28), 7:05 p.m. ET

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.