Milone impressed by batterymate, Kepler

Milone impressed by batterymate, Kepler

BRADENTON, Fla. -- After a rocky opening frame, Tommy Milone settled in nicely in his second and final inning of work in the Twins' 2-2 tie against the Pirates on Friday afternoon.

In the first inning, Milone allowed a run on three hits -- two singles, and a wind-blown triple to right-center by Starling Marte that narrowly eluded the reach of a leaping Max Kepler -- while throwing 12 of his 21 pitches for strikes.

The veteran lefty displayed much better command in the second frame, holding the Bucs scoreless on one hit -- a single to left by John Jaso -- while throwing 12 strikes and five balls.

Milone punctuated his 38-pitch performance with back-to-back strikeouts of Sean Rodriguez and Cole Figueroa to close out his afternoon.

"Felt good," said Milone, who is competing with Ricky Nolasco and Jose Berrios for the fifth spot in the Twin's starting rotation. "Kind of off to a slow start there in the first inning, just trying to get a feel for all the pitches … but felt pretty good overall.

"I settled down there in the second inning after the little bloop into left field [by Jaso]. I was able to slow down a little bit. I think I was rushing my delivery, and then just started making more pitches."

While Milone was pleased with the increased effectiveness he showcased in the second inning, he was particularly impressed by a couple of his teammates -- catcher John Ryan Murphy and Kepler.

"That was the first time he caught me. We were just going on the fly," said Milone of Murphy, whom the Twins obtained from the Yankees in November for Aaron Hicks. "I feel like it's not that hard if everything's working. I just go with what the catcher puts down, and assuming I'm able to hit spots and move the ball up and down all around, it makes it easier.

"I've heard great stories about the defensive catcher that he is, so I don't think it's going to take any time at all," he continued. "Right off the bat there, he was calling pitches that I would have called myself, so I think it was pretty seamless coming in."

And Kepler, who recorded two putouts and nearly made a spectacular grab in center field on Marte's first-inning triple, also drew rave reviews from the southpaw.

"He's good defensively, he's good offensively, he's the real deal. It's exciting for young guys like that to get the opportunity up here and show what they can do, and I think he's doing a good job so far," said Milone of Kepler, who hit a combined .318 with nine home runs and 71 RBIs last year for Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Double-A Chattanooga.

Milone, who narrowly exceeded his 35-pitch limit on Friday, said he expects his workload to increase to 50 pitches in his next Spring Training start.

Michael Kolligian is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.