Last July Dontrelle Willis abruptly retired while with the Baltimore Orioles Triple-A affiliate, at least in part over a disagreement with the team over his role going forward. Willis elected to make another comeback attempt, signing a minor league deal this winter with the Chicago Cubs. Making an unscheduled appearance in the team’s game Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Willis was forced to leave the game after throwing just seven pitches.
Willis came into the game in the bottom of the eighth inning and walked the first batter (Nick Evans) that he faced. He threw one pitch to the second before reaching for his shoulder. He’d promptly leave the game under trainer supervision.
Little is known about the extent of Willis’ injury at this point, other than it being “shoulder tightness”. There has to be some hope that it isn’t a serious injury, but one has to wonder if this could really be it for the left-hander. Willis last pitched in the Major Leagues during the 2011 season, making 13 starts with the Cincinnati Reds while going 1-6 with a 5.00 ERA and 1.520 WHIP over 75.2 IP. Since the Marlins included him in the Miguel Cabrera trade following the 2007 season, Willis is just 4-15 in 40 starts, with a 6.15 ERA, 1.814 WHIP, and 7.1 BB/9.
Of course, this could turn out to be nothing. We don’t fully know what Willis’ throwing regimen has been since he retired last July. Even still, it’s concerning that he felt pain and had to leave the game so abruptly his first time on the mound against live hitters. The impact on Willis’ future is unknown at this point. If the injury is minor, he’ll return to camp when ready and presumably accept an assignment to the minor leagues. Willis was a longshot to make the team’s roster even before this setback.