On Thursday, the Tigers placed the left-hander on the disabled list, retroactive to Monday, for the second time this season because of an anxiety disorder. Willis missed the first two months of the season for the same reason and has been plagued by inconsistency since being activated on May 13.
"I feel pretty good," Willis said before Thursday night's game against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. "[My arm is] still on, so that's a good thing. I know I have the ability to do it. I just have to put it together consistently and I haven't been doing a good job of being consistent enough for them. That's the bottom line.
"I have to work a little harder to be consistent. I know I can do it because I did it a couple weeks ago. I just have to continue to stay on track. As far as the anxiety, I have no idea about it. I don't feel like I have any nervousness out there. I'm just a guy who really cares about being competitive and that's the bottom line."
Willis, a two-time All-Star in 2003 and 2005 with the Florida Marlins, is currently 1-4 with a 7.49 ERA after seven starts. In 33 2/3 innings, he has allowed 28 runs (all earned) on 37 hits, struck out 17 batters and walked 28. Opponents are batting .294 against him.
In his last start, Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Willis allowed six runs in 3 2/3 innings and walked a season-high eight batters, which was the most by a Tigers pitcher in a game since 2001.
Kevin Rand, the Tigers' medical director/head athletic trainer, said the next step is for Willis to meet back in Detroit with a medical group being put together by Dr. Michael Workings and decide on a course of action.
Rand said: "We talked to the people that have been working with him, that he's been continually been working with during this time, and ... basically came to the conclusion that we needed to kind of take a step back, reevaluate everything and see if there are some other things we can do to help in moving forward."
Rand said Willis will return to Detroit with the team after Thursday's game and continue with his normal bullpen throwing sessions.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland would not discuss the Willis situation before Thursday's game, but said he is pulling for the left-hander to bounce back.
"He's a great competitor, great teammate," Leyland said. "I'm pulling a lot for him. He's got plenty left in his arm."
In a meeting with reporters, Willis was asked if he thought his problems were more mechanical than mental.
"I feel like it is," he said. "I feel like it is. I've got so many moving parts, if one is out of whack, from time to time it happens.
"I'm not a conventional guy. I've never been a conventional guy. I've had it happen before. ... This is not the first time I've had control problems. I've been able to overcome it. I'm not worried about it. I just have to continue to get a chance to go out there and be able to overcome it."
Rand was asked whether the problem was more mechanical.
"It all kind of fits together," he said. "Physically, Dontrelle looks great. You see at times he's still got that. There were periods during the game in Chicago where he threw the ball outstanding. We know it's there. We need to be able to get to it and make sure it works for him."
Willis, who has won just one game in 14 starts since being traded from Florida before the 2008 season, is eager to return to action and contribute to the Tigers.
"Kevin has a master plan and everybody is getting together," Willis said. "I'm just looking forward to whatever they need me to do to get my mechanics right. My last start I didn't really feel comfortable out there. At the same time, we have to win. We're in a race. That's the bottom line. I'm going to get myself right again and come back again and hopefully the third time is the charm."
Taking Willis' place in the Detroit rotation for at least the foreseeable future will be right-hander Alfredo Figaro, who was recalled from Double-A Erie on Thursday and will start Saturday afternoon's game against Milwaukee.
"He has talent," Leyland said. "We asked for a recommendation and that was the recommendation, so that is who we took."
In 11 starts for Erie this season, the 24-year-old went 5-2 with a 4.10 ERA and struck out 59 batters in 68 innings.
Asked about Figaro's repertoire, the manager said, "He's got it all: fastball, curveball, slider, change. He's a talented kid. Is he ready? I don't know."
Leyland said the club considered moving reliever Zach Miner into the rotation, but that the right-hander was too important in his current role.
"We felt like right now that Zach Miner was a very huge, valuable piece of our bullpen, so we didn't want to switch that around," he said. "Plus we'd probably have to build him up again. This kid is build up. You leave Zach in there. He's done a wonderful job down there for us and we didn't want to mess with that equation."
Nate Latsch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.