Ducks' Dontrelle Willis signs minor-league deal with Angels
The Ducks-York game Sunday was supposed to feature two former major-league pitchers, with Dontrelle Willis facing the Revolution's Brett Tomko.
Instead, the Ducks started Deer Park product Pete Budkevics in their 7-6 victory at Bethpage Ballpark after learning that Willis had signed a minor-league deal with the Los Angeles Angels.
Willis became the third Ducks player to sign with a major-league team this season. He will report to Triple-A Salt Lake.
"I didn't believe it, to be honest with you,'' Willis said. "I was supposed to be pitching today so I was really focused on the game today and getting some work in and winning a ballgame. That's one thing where as goofy as I am and as much as I play around, when it's game day, I'm very serious about going out there no matter where I'm at and competing for the guys that are behind me. I take pride in that.
"I tried to give the guys that spiel, but they're just really happy for me, and that's a great feeling."
Willis, 31, was the National League Rookie of the Year and an All-Star with the Florida Marlins in 2003. He again made the NL All-Star team with the Marlins in 2005 and finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting that season.
Willis also has pitched for the Tigers, Diamondbacks and Reds, and last pitched in the majors with Cincinnati in 2011. Last season, Willis pitched in four games for the Orioles' Triple-A Norfolk affiliate.
This season, he was leading the Atlantic League in ERA with a 2.56 mark through 14 starts. He was 5-4 with 52 strikeouts in 872/3 innings and threw three complete games. He also started the Atlantic League All-Star Game, tossing a perfect inning for the Liberty Division on July 10.
"I'm really appreciative of [Ducks pitching coach Steve Foucault] and [manager Kevin Baez] for getting me back into the routine that I'm used to," Willis said. "I'm forever indebted to those guys because they kept it loose and fun and they helped us find ourselves."
Willis hopes signing with the Angels will put him back on a path to the majors but said he'll miss playing with his Ducks teammates, especially personal catcher Ralph Henriquez, who caught 11 of Willis' starts.
"He's like my little brother,'' Willis said. "We've grown very close and you saw the work we put in together and I wish him all the best and I'm thankful for him and all these guys. You can see they have a lot of love and respect here, and I love it."
He added, "The whole organization treated me with a lot of respect and class and I had a good time playing here. You remember the wins and losses but more so the camaraderie in baseball, and when the guys found out about it, they were more happy than I was. It's another cool story that I get to be a part of."
Adam Bailey led the Ducks with two key hits: a tying three-run homer in the fourth inning and a go-ahead single in the eighth.
The Ducks trailed 4-0 in the fourth and 6-5 in the eighth, but Bryant Nelson tied the score at 6-6 with a single to right that drove in Joash Brodin. Bailey then singled home P.J. Phillips, pinch running for Ray Navarrete, who had singled.
Ian Snell earned the win after pitching a scoreless eighth.
Matt Spencer hit a three-run homer as York took its early four-run lead. Bailey's three-run homer and Henriquez's solo shot gave the Ducks a 5-4 lead.
Bailey, Navarrete and Brodin each had two hits.