Surprise, Ariz. Dontrelle Willis continues to make a case for a spot in the Cincinnati Reds’ bullpen.
Willis pitched two perfect innings, striking out three, and Drew Stubbs hit a three-run homer and the Reds defeated the Kansas City Royals, 5-2, on Tuesday.
Willis, the 2003 National League rookie of the year, has made only three relief appearances in 192 games in the majors.
The Reds have openings for left-handed relievers and Willis hopes to get one of the spots.
He has allowed two hits in five scoreless innings in three spring training outings.
In his past two outings, he has been perfect in four innings against the Royals and Seattle Mariners.
“We keep our fingers crossed that he keeps performing the way he’s performing and enjoying it while he’s doing it,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Willis won 22 games for the Florida Marlins in 2005, but has won only three games in the majors the past three years. He was with Detroit and Arizona in 2010 and signed a minor league contract in December with the Reds.
The Royals could not get the ball out of the infield in Willis’ two innings. Willis fielded two comebackers and covered first on an Irving Falu bunt.
“He made some excellent plays,” Baker said. “Man, he beat that runner to first base. He’s an athlete. I didn’t think he had a chance on that bunt.”
Baker was equally impressed with Willis’ pitching.
“He was throwing his breaking ball for strikes at will,” Baker said. “When you do that, you’re going to be tough especially on left-handers. His command is getting better and better, better than I can remember it. It’s real good. His breaking ball is better, I can tell you that. That’s a good sign when you see that.
“He’s a guy who can get out righties and lefties out. He’s been a guy who has been in championship ball games. He’s a guy that brings energy and life on the field and off the field as well.”
Royals right-hander Kyle Davies pitched three shutout innings. He got out of a first-inning jam after giving up singles to Stubbs and Edgar Renteria and both advanced on a wild pitch.
“From there on I had to bear down,” Davies said. “I thought I made some pretty good pitches to get out of it.”
Davies recovered by striking out Joey Votto and Scott Rolen and retiring Jay Bruce on a fly to center.
The Royals took a 2-0 lead in the third when Billy Butler hit a two-run homer.
Royals rookie left-hander Danny Duffy walked Chris Valaika and Ryan Hanigan in the fourth before giving up a home run to Drew Stubbs.
“I need to stop nibbling and pitch with conviction,” Duffy said. “I’m nibbling too much.”
Reds starter Travis Wood gave up two runs and five hits in three innings, while striking out two and walking two.
“My pitches were working pretty well,” Wood said. “Butler just got the head of the bat on the ball. Having some success last year, knocks out some of the nerves. I probably put a lot of pressure on my self last year.”