Stiff neck leads to startling discovery for Milone

Stiff neck leads to startling discovery for Milone

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Once the 2014 season ended, Twins left-hander Tommy Milone received a cortisone shot in his neck to help him with the stiffness that bothered him late in the season, and figured his neck would feel better with rest.

But instead of getting better, the neck never improved and got to the point where Milone couldn't even turn his head. He figured something wasn't right and saw a specialist that discovered a benign tumor in his neck, requiring surgery on Dec. 4. Milone felt a difference right away after the surgery, and was able to get back to throwing roughly two weeks later.

"I felt like 20 times better immediately," Milone said. "I couldn't even move my neck before the surgery. So I'm grateful the issue is behind me and that I can move forward and compete for that fifth spot."

Milone started his throwing program a bit later than usual, but said it caused him to improve his focus this offseason and that he feels he was able to get ready for Spring Training without any issues.

"I'm ready to go," Milone said. "I'm prepared this year more than the last couple years. I don't know if it was just getting a late start on working out or throwing this year because of the neck issue. So I felt like I needed to turn it on double-time once I got healthy."

Milone, 28, is competing for the fifth spot in the rotation along with Mike Pelfrey, Alex Meyer, Trevor May and Tim Stauffer. He's considered the favorite in that race, but said he knows not to take it for granted.

"I don't ever come into Spring Training thinking I have a spot in the rotation," Milone said. "So I'm just going to treat it the same way. And obviously I don't and it's not a lock. There are a few guys going for it. So you just have to compete."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.