Minnesota Twins Opening Day Countdown: 51, Carl Willis

TORONTO, ON - JULY 1: Acting manager Gary Disarcina
TORONTO, ON - JULY 1: Acting manager Gary Disarcina /

The Minnesota Twins are just 51 days away from Opening Day in Baltimore. As we near that day, here is more Twins history related to that number!

The Minnesota Twins are preparing for a 2018 season with expectations after making the playoffs in 2017 as a Wild Card team. We will highlight numbers from team history that represent the number of days until Opening Day on March 29th in Baltimore.

The next Twins player on this list has seen plenty of baseball over his career. First as a player and now as a coach. In fact, he almost came back to the Twins to don a Minnesota jersey as a pitching coach. That pitcher who wore number 51 while with the Twins is Carl Willis.

Willis Pre-Twins

Willis started his pro career after being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 23rd round of the 1983 draft. He struggled to find a place in the Tigers already deep bullpen. That led to the Tigers trading Willis to the Cincinnati Reds to complete a deal in which the Tigers acquired Bill Scherrer.

Willis still saw a lot of back and forth from the minors and the majors with the Reds. He also had brief stints with the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians organizations. It wasn’t until signing as a free agent with the Twins in December of 1990 that he started to find his place in the major leagues.

Willis with the Twins

Willis came to Minnesota at just the right time. He plugged into the bullpen and was able to appear in 40 games for 89 innings worth of work. Over those innings, he held a 2.63 ERA and finished 9 games, recording 2 saves along the way. Willis was very valuable in the 1991 ALCS against the Toronto Bluejays only allowing two hits in five scoreless innings.

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Willis’ World Series was also instrumental for the Twins. In Game 3 Willis threw two scoreless innings but unfortunately, the Braves wound up winning that game. Games 4 and 5 were rough for Willis as he gave up 4 runs including a home run to Lonnie Smith in Game 4. Willis found redemption in Game 6 as he tossed another 2 scoreless innings of relief in the epic 11-inning victory that made Game 7 possible.

Willis stayed in Minnesota through the 1995 season, but that 1991 season was clearly his and the Twins best season during his Twins career. 1992 was still solid as Willis tossed 79.1 innings in relief. He had a 2.72 ERA and finished out 21 games that season, up considerably from the 9 he finished the season before.

Willis’ coaching career

After his playing days, Willis went into coaching where he has found great success coaching pitchers. That is evident by the fact he has coached 4 Cy Young winners (CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, and Rick Porcello). In his first stop, Willis returned to the Cleveland Indians where he coached in the minors before becoming the pitching coach in 2003. He stayed there until 2009 when he moved to Seattle to serve as the Mariners minor-league pitching instructor and then became the teams pitching coach in 2010 and would remain in that position until 2013.

With other stops in the Cleveland organization and with the Boston Red Sox, Willis was part of the group interviewing for the Twins recent pitching coach vacancy until he agreed to return to Cleveland where he will serve as the teams pitching coach again this coming season.

Next: Time for the Twins to make a move

Opening Day is getting closer and closer and as it does we remember #51 Carl Willis.