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Published: Tuesday, 6/10/2008

Patient Indians triumph over Tigers

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT - The Cleveland Indians had nothing better to do last night than to wait for Dontrelle Willis to throw a strike.

And when Willis bothered to throw one, a Cleveland batter usually crushed it.

The Indians only had three hits against Willis, but two of them were homers with runners on base. All five hitters Willis walked in his 11/3 innings scored, and Cleveland cruised to an 8-2 win on a rain-soaked, lightning-filled evening at Comerica Park.

Willis (0-1) walked two hitters with one out in the first, and Ryan Garko made him pay with a three-run homer. After a leadoff walk to start the second, Kelly Shoppach jumped on a Willis offering for a two-run shot.

"Dontrelle had a tough time throwing strikes," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who was in no mood to discuss Willis' outing in great detail. "He let up to get the ball over the plate and they hit a couple long balls. That's the end of the Dontrelle conversation."

The Tigers' experience with Willis this season went from bad to worse. He was charged with all eight runs and threw only 27 of 64 pitches for strikes. He hasn't lasted more than five innings in any of his four starts this year and has walked 21 in 111/3 innings.

"It was just a rough day," said Willis, who was visibly fighting his pitching mechanics and emotions on the mound. "It was a day where I didn't do anything right."

Willis, who signed a three-year, $29 million contract extension with Detroit after the Tigers acquired him and Miguel Cabrera in a trade on Dec. 5, was reinserted into the starting rotation June 3 after stints on the

disdisabled list and in the bullpen.

Leyland said Sunday night there was no pressure from the front office to return Willis to a starting role, but "when you sign a guy to a three-year contract, you better find out if he'll be able to do something."

One of the things Willis has done since 2006 is walk people. He set a career high with 83 walks in 2006 and broke that mark with 87 freebies last year.

Indian starting pitcher Cliff Lee took advantage of Willis' generosity last night and became the American League's first 10-game winner.

Lee gave up two runs in five innings in an outing undoubtedly shortened by the game's 57-minute rain delay. His best inning was the fifth - after sitting through the delay - when he retired the Tigers in order.

Detroit had a runner on in every other inning against him and left runners in scoring position three times.

The two teams played under threatening skies and rain until the top of the fifth, when an impressive lightning display flashed behind Comerica Park's center-field backdrop. Clay Rapada was pitching for the Tigers at the time, and returned after the delay to complete his three innings of scoreless relief.

The Indians (29-35) split their four-game series in Detroit. They went 5-6 on their 11-game road trip and begin a three-game series at home with Minnesota tonight.

The Tigers (26-37) tonight will welcome the Chicago White Sox, winners of seven in a row and in first in the AL Central, 11 games ahead of fourth-place Detroit.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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