The Louisville starter in the Bats’ 5-4 win over the Mud Hens at Fifth Third Field Friday night was a familiar face.
Lefty Dontrelle Willis, who pitched for the Hens in parts of the 2008 and ‘09 seasons, and also spent much of three years with Detroit, threw eight solid innings Friday to beat Toledo for the third time this season.
If Willis took pleasure in handing the Hens their eighth consecutive loss, though, he didn’t show it.
“I have a lot of friends over there,” Willis said of the Mud Hens clubhouse. “I was in Toledo more than I was in Detroit, and I enjoyed my time in Toledo.
“I definitely like the ballpark, and I like the organization. And I like playing against them.”
In his three starts against the Hens this season, the 29-year-old has allowed just 20 hits and three walks in 28 innings, striking out 23 and posting a 2.00 ERA. But Willis hasn’t picked on the Hens exclusively this season; the southpaw is 5-2 with a 2.74 ERA in 12 starts for Louisville and ranks among the International League’s ERA leaders.
“I like the way I’m playing baseball right now,” Willis said. “I haven’t played this type of baseball in a long time.
“Hats off to [Cincinnati general manager] Walt Jocketty and [Reds manager] Dusty Baker for making me feel at home; they gave me a chance to start again. And our manager here, Rick Sweet, and our pitching coach, Ted Power, are great guys that you can learn a lot from.”
Sweet likes the effort he has received from Willis this season.
“Every game Dontrelle has pitched, he has pitched aggressively and kept us in the ball game,” Sweet said. “He’s a character on the mound, so he’s fun to watch, but he’s also been a great teammate. And he is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had.
“He’s been the most consistent starter we’ve had all year.”
“He’s throwing strikes,” Nevin said of Willis.
“He has that confidence back that he had when he was pitching well in the big leagues.
“As a fan of Dontrelle — and I am one — it’s good to see that. He’s good for the game, and I really hope he gets a chance to pitch again in the big leagues — hopefully before we play them again.”
Friday night the Mud Hens had more success against Willis than they did five days ago in Louisville, when the lefty allowed just three hits and one run in seven strong innings.
“We took some good at-bats against him,” Nevin said. “We didn’t change anything; we just took better swings.”
Danny Worth homered off Willis in the first, and Clete Thomas smacked a home run in the third. Toledo also got single runs in the fourth and sixth largely thanks to doubles by Ryan Strieby, who doubled and scored on a single by Jeff Salazar in the fourth before driving in Ben Guez with his two-base hit in the sixth.
“I was really impressed with the way the Mud Hens battled,” Willis said. “They are a bunch of guys playing hard. After seeing them five days ago, I was impressed with all the adjustments they made.”
The Bats claimed the victory thanks in large part to their offense, which cranked out three home runs against Andy Oliver in the first sixth innings, then found a way to manufacture the winning run in the seventh off Brad Thomas.
The seventh-inning rally featured a walk, a hit batsman and a single to load the bases before Thomas walked Yonder Alonso to force home the winning run.
“That’s baseball,” Nevin said. “Winning close baseball games is about the small execution things. And throwing strikes is an important part of that.
“They didn’t walk anybody, and we walked five. And that’s probably the difference in this game.”
NOTES: Worth came to the Hens from Detroit, who optioned him back to Toledo after activating Brandon Inge Thursday. ... The Hens have lost three in a row at home and are 10-27 at Fifth Third Field this season. ... Friday night’s crowd of 9,673 was the Hens’ seventh sellout this season.
Contact John Wagner at: email@example.com or 419-724-6481.