Milone a not-so-fast flash of the past
A's rookie left-hander creatively and successfully uses offspeed pitches
DETROIT -- His fastball is like Cabbage Patch Kids, Teddy Ruxpin and hairbands: stuck in the 80s.
He won't turn 26 until around the time pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, but he's got the mound presence, poise and moxie of a player 10 years his senior.
When Tommy Milone debuted for the Washington Nationals in 2011 and made five starts, he said he was given one simple piece of advice, and he's carried it through a breakout season for the Oakland A's that has taken him all the way to being announced as manager Bob Melvin's choice for Sunday's Game 2 starter in the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers on MLB Network at 9 a.m. PT.
"'Just go out there and be you,'" Milone said he was told. "'You can't be anybody else. Continue to work the zone, up and down. Change speeds. Keep the ball low.'"
- 2012 Regular Season
- Overall: 31 GS, 13-10, 3.74 ERA, 36 BB, 137 K
- Overall: 26 GS, 10-10, 3.45 ERA, 37 BB, 137 K
- Key stat: 4.83 ERA, 18 HRs on the road (16 GS); 2.74 ERA, 6 HRs at home (15 GS).
- Key stat: 8-4, 2.67 ERA, 89 K in 15 starts since the All-Star break.
- At Comerica Park
- 2012: 1 GS, 0-0, 5.79 ERA
Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 5.79 ERA
- 2012: 13 GS, 6-3, 3.21 ERA
Career: 20 GS, 10-5, 2.89 ERA
- Against this opponent
- 2012: 2 GS, 1-0, 3.09 ERA
Career: 2 GS, 1-0, 3.09 ERA
- 2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 1.50 ERA
Career: 20 GS, 10-5, 2.89 ERA
- Loves to face: Delmon Young, 1-for-6, 1 K
Hates to face: Avisail Garcia, 2-for-2, 1 R
- Loves to face: Cliff Pennington, 1-for-21, 5 Ks
Hates to face: Coco Crisp, 6-for-12, 2 3B
- Game breakdown
- Why he'll win: Walked only 11 batters in 14 post-All-Star break games
- Why he'll win: 2.67 ERA is third-best mark among starters since the break.
- Pitcher beware: Lasted only 4 2/3 innings after giving up nine hits in two of his last three starts, including one against Detroit
- Pitcher beware: Tendency to get hurt, missed time on three separate occasions in 2012.
- Bottom line: Pitch like he did against the Tigers on May 11, when he gave up just one earned run on five hits in seven innings.
- Bottom line: Impressive track record should spell victory.
Oh, and collecting 13 victories and posting a 3.74 ERA in 190 innings for a team that wins 94 games and annexes the AL West on the last day of the regular season, well, that's a pretty good plan, too.
It's been a whirlwind experience for Milone, who came over from Washington in the offseason trade that sent Gio Gonzalez on his way to a 20-win campaign for the National League East champions, but the A's seem just fine with their end of the deal.
Milone, who was brought in along with pitching prospects Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole and catcher Derek Norris, has fit right into a young staff that has weathered the loss of veterans Brandon McCarthy (skull fracture) and Brett Anderson (Tommy John surgery, strained oblique) and Bartolo Colon (drug suspension), and he's done it quietly and efficiently.
This whole being-young thing doesn't seem to bother him, so why should the October stage?
"We want to be in big situations," Milone said. "We've done it all year. It's nothing different now. Just go out there and try to remember to play your game. You can't really do too much. For me, I can't go out there and try to throw 95 [mph]. It's just not going to work.
"So remember, it's still the same game, whether or not it's the postseason. Just go out there, have fun and continue to pitch and play baseball."
The A's keep approaching the next game in this manner, and they keep winning. Now they'll go up against one of the tougher lineups in baseball, replete with slugger Miguel Cabrera, who won the Triple Crown for the first time in 45 years, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson and other threats.
Milone has a healthy respect for Detroit. What he doesn't seem to have is fear. Milone beat the Tigers in his first try against them on May 11 in Oakland, going seven innings and giving up two runs (one earned) on five hits while striking out six. He struggled in his other go-around against them on Sept. 20 in Detroit, throwing 94 pitches in 4 2/3 innings and giving up three runs on nine hits in a no-decision. But he bounced back in his next start, going six innings against the Rangers in Texas and giving up two unearned runs.
"I just know that they're really aggressive," Milone said. "They're going to swing the bat, so you've just got to make good pitches. I feel like last time we were here I gave up a lot of hits, leaving balls up in the zone, they were able to put them in play and they were getting hits off of them.
"So just make good pitches, keep them low, have them hit the ball on the ground and give our defense a chance to make plays."
And deal with the situation, too. Comerica Park's sure to be packed, the air will have an autumnal chill to it, and the intensity will be turned up a few notches past anything Milone has experienced so far in his career.
"I'm pretty sure that my heart's going to be going," Milone said. "But just try to keep your composure, keep your poise. Go out there, kind of slow the game down. Just throw strikes and throw quality pitches. That's the plan tomorrow."
The mound strategy he employs is typical of the classic left-hander without an electric arm. He has to add and subtract, to keep hitters off balance, to paint corners and use his slow stuff to make his fastball seem harder than it is. For some pitchers, it can take five or 10 years to refine this approach. Milone seems to have it already.
"He throws strikes, and he throws strikes with his offspeed stuff, mixing it up early in the count," A's catcher George Kottaras said. "He definitely plays with the hitter's timing, which makes him effective."
Added A's outfielder Josh Reddick: "He only throws 88 mph, and he's not afraid to pitch in, but that's a credit to his changeup. He gets guys out on their front foot on the outer third [of the plate], and bringing that 88 in there, it looks like 98.
"So he's not afraid to go in on guys. He goes in on guys that are hitting leadoff, and he goes in on guys that are hitting in the four-hole, whether it's on the right side or left side. So he's not afraid."
Milone and Game 1 starter Jarrod Parker have weathered their first full seasons in the big leagues together, rebounding from bad starts while learning what it takes to be a part of a starting staff. Milone said it's been a valuable process and helpful to have a wingman along for the ride.
"I'm extremely proud of both of us," Milone said. "We've had some bumps and bruises along the way, but here in the end we've come out, I think, stronger for it."
So have the A's. They've got a loose, fun-loving clubhouse culture that seems to push them through adversity and have faith that their players, no matter how young, can get the job done.
"You got a credit a lot of that to [Melvin]," Reddick said. "He's done a great job of getting all these young guys in here and making them feel comfortable, letting guys run with their personalities."
And, in the case of Milone, letting a guy run with a fastball along the lines of Space Invaders, Tab cola and Dexy's Midnight Runners.
"There's been rough spots in the year, and they were able to stick with us through thick and thin," Milone said of the A's. "It goes without being said that they had trust in us."