Making strides?: Former Tiger Dontrelle Willis is 2-0 with a 0.53 ERA in three starts at Triple-A Louisville this season. He has walked just five in 17 innings for the Cincinnati Reds top affiliate. (B. Calloway photo)

The past three seasons had been a struggle for Dontrelle Willis.

Since being traded from the Florida Marlins to the Tigers in a deal that involved Miguel Cabrera, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller in December of 2007, the one-time National League rookie of the year struggled on the mound.

Willis won just three games in the majors from 2008-2010 and had a hard time finding the strike zone. He had 119 walks and 82 strikeouts in 123 1/3 innings in that three-year span. His numbers weren’t too much better in the minors.

After the Tigers traded him to Arizona last year, Willis was sent to the minors and made eight appearances as a reliever where he had a 6.14 ERA and had given up five earned runs in 7 1/3 innings. with five walks and six strikeouts.

Despite the control issues and high ERAs, being a lefty helped Willis land an opportunity with the Cincinnati Reds and he has taken advantage of it so far. Pitching at Triple-A Louisville, Willis has shown better control and is off to a fast start for the Reds top affiliate. He is 2-0 with a 0.53 earned run average in three starts.

More impressive is that he has 15 strikeouts and just five walks in 17 1/3 innings. He also has only allowed 14 hits and the opposition is hitting just .222 against him.

Willis pitched six scoreless innings in his season-opening starter against Toledo (the Tigers farm team) and followed with six shutout innings against Indianapolis (the Pirates farm team). His scoreless streak of 17 innings to open the season ended when Cleveland Indians prospect Chad Huffman hit a solo home run against him Wednesday.

While Willis has not been issuing walks, he threw 62 strikes and 50 balls in Wednesday’s outing against Columbus. He had 56 strikes and 45 balls against Indianapolis and 47 strikes and 23 balls in the win over Toledo. Only 58 percent of his pitches have been strikes and that number could use some improvement, but his early success is an encouragement. This is the best amount of success he has had since his days with the Marlines.

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