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Published: Friday, 3/26/2010

Willis, Bonderman impressive in starts

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LAKELAND, Fla. - Dontrelle Willis sat at his locker, smiling and patiently answering questions after another strong spring outing yesterday.

Competing with Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson for the final two spots in the Detroit Tigers starting rotation, Willis allowed just one run in four innings of a 5-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

"I'm a part of this team," Willis said pointing at the name tag above his locker at Tigertown. "Whatever they want me to do. I'm rooting for the other guys as much as I'm rooting for myself. That's my name right next to the logo. I am part of the team."

Willis gave up two hits and walked three, including the first two batters, but he said he felt comfortable making adjustments. His spring ERA actually rose to 1.20, but Willis said he has never felt more confident.

"I made quality pitches," Willis said. "When I got in trouble I was able to minimize the damages."

Willis won only one game for the Tigers last season, a far cry from when he won 22 for the Florida Marlins in 2005. He's won only once in 15 games since his trade to Detroit in 2008.

"I'm working on making adjustments when I need to this spring," Willis said. "For the first time in a while, I am pitching with confidence and having fun."

VIERA, Fla. - Trying to earn a rotation spot, Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman worked out of trouble over 41/3 innings, and Johnny Damon's two hits helped a Tigers split squad beat the Nationals.

Still working his way back from shoulder surgery in 2008, Bonderman allowed five hits and two runs - one earned. He also threw a wild pitch and walked a batter while recording only one 1-2-3 inning.

From 2004-07, Bonderman won 50 games, including a 14-8 record, 202 strikeouts and an AL-leading 34 starts in 2006. But he had shoulder surgery in June, 2008, and didn't make it back to the majors until September, 2009, when he made eight appearances, all but one in relief.

The 27-year-old right-hander got out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth by allowing only one run on Alberto Gonzalez's RBI groundout.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. - Felix Hernandez struck out seven over five innings, but Seattle still fell to the Indians.

Travis Hafner had two hits and scored a run for Cleveland, which got four scoreless innings of relief from Aaron Laffey.

Hernandez is on track for his Opening Day assignment.

Indians starter David Huff gave up five hits and one run - a homer by Jack Wilson - over 41/3 innings. The left-hander walked three, including two when he loaded the bases in the fourth. Huff, who led Cleveland with 11 wins as a rookie in 2009, then got Corey Patterson to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Laffey, battling for a roster spot as either a starter or long man out of the bullpen, was impressive with his sinker.



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