"The idea is to see if he can be a lock-down left-handed reliever against left-handed hitters," Dan Duquette, executive vice president of baseball operations, said. "Our interest in that project is [that] lefties hit .127 off him last year, and three of the last four years, he's done very well vs. left-handed hitters."
Willis, who had signed a non-guaranteed one-year deal with the Phillies over the winter, was released on Friday after making just three Grapefruit League appearances. He allowed five runs in 2 2/3 innings this spring and dealt with some soreness in his arm before Philadelphia pulled the plug and granted him free agency.
Willis said after passing his physical on Wednesday that the soreness is behind him, and he talked animatedly when asked if he thought he had a chance to fit in with the Orioles.
"I definitely hope so, or I'll go home. Simple as that," said Willis, who will likely start the season in the Minors. "Whatever they want me to do. It's so late in Spring Training, I just want to go out there, get in some games and see how it goes, and take it one day at a time. It's tough because the timing of me coming over here. I'm open to anything as long as I can get some good work in and go from there."
The National League Rookie of the Year in 2003, Willis has won just four games since 2008, going 1-6 with a 5.00 ERA for the Reds last season. He has had success recently against left-handed hitters -- which prompted the Phillies to sign him as a potential reliever -- and the Orioles are hoping he can successfully reinvent himself.
"Cla Rapada was our left-handed specialist, and when we added [Wilson] Betemit, we lost him," Duquette said. "We said we were going to look around for a left-handed specialist that [manager] Buck [Showalter] could use against left-handed hitters, and we're going to see if we have that in Dontrelle Willis."
Willis said the good part about being part of so many organizations -- this is his fifth since the beginning of 2010 -- is that he knows a few guys on every team, including the Orioles. He's particularly close with center fielder Adam Jones.
"They are excited, they are revamped, even the ballpark here, I drove past it, it's all new and stuff," Willis said of Ed Smith Stadium. "So it's good to come here and see guys excited and ready to work."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less