KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- He walked the first batter on four pitches.
Would Dontrelle Willis' 10-month struggle to recover from social anxiety and chronic wildness blow up in his face the first time out?
In a word, no. The former two-time National League All-Star walked two batters in the first inning but none over the next five as the Detroit Tigers beat the Kansas City Royals and its shaky bullpen 7-3 Thursday, giving hope that Willis' troubles may finally be a thing of the past.
"It was a gritty ballgame early," said Willis, who had appeared in just 15 games since signing a three-year contract with Detroit in 2008. "They had me on the ropes. But with the encouragement of my team I was able to battle, make some good pitches and get us back in the dugout."
Miguel Cabrera drove homered and drove in four runs for Detroit.
In his previous regular-season start June 14, Willis walked a career-high eight batters in just 3 2/3 innings. Then he went on the disabled list the rest of the season with social anxiety disorder.
If the right-hander can regain the form that made him a star with the Florida Marlins, the Tigers will seem almost certain to contend in the AL Central.
"Early on, I've got to force contact," he said. "I think everybody's going to have the same approach on me. I think they're going to wait me out to see if I'm throwing the ball over the plate."
Without a doubt, that was Kansas City's strategy.
"He wasn't quite as wild as we expected him to be or as he's been in some of his past," said manager Trey Hillman. "He threw enough strikes for us to have to be ready."
Cabrera hit a three-run home run on an 0-2 count off Luis Mendoza (0-1) in the eighth, putting the Tigers on top 4-2. He added an RBI single in the three-run ninth as the Royals' bullpen blew a save for the third straight game.
"It's just a matter of making pitches on quality hitters," said Hillman. "When you leave pitches out over the plate especially to guys like Cabrera, Magglio [Ordonez] and [Carlos] Guillen, they are going to get you."
Willis allowed two runs on seven hits, with two walks and four strikeouts in six innings.
"He's got to build on this one," said manager Jim Leyland. "This one was OK. It wasn't great, but it was OK. I've kind of stayed away from making any fuss one way or the other. Treat him the way you do everybody else. If you do the job, you pitch. I'm excited for him. I'm happy for him.
"He's got every teammate pulling as hard as you could pull for everybody. It's great to see."
Cabrera went 4 for 5 with a three-run homer and an RBI single. In 41 games against the Royals, he's hitting .363 with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs.
"This is a good park to hit, this big park," said Cabrera, who hit the tying home run on Wednesday night. "When you see a big park, you try to use the gaps. That's an advantage."
"Today was just one of those days," Colon said. "You can't even explain that. We're going to keep on fighting."
Scott Podsednik went 4 for 5 for the Royals while Callaspo had a day to forget.
The Royals had two runners on base each of the first three times he came to bat but he grounded into two double plays and struck out. Then with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth, he grounded weakly to Cabrera at first.
The Tigers open their home season on Friday against the Cleveland Indians. ... Damon's bat went flying past first base when he swung at a pitch in the eighth. ... Cabrera's home run with two outs in the ninth Wednesday night sent the game into extra innings.