Spring going as expected for Millwood

Spring going as expected for Millwood

SARASOTA, Fla. -- For those concerned about Kevin Millwood's Spring Training stats, Orioles manager Dave Trembley has a question.

"Is anyone asking about [Tim] Lincecum this Spring Training?"

"I'm sure there are other pitchers in baseball right now that aren't having the greatest spring," Trembley said.

Like Lincecum -- who has a 9.39 ERA in three outings-- Millwood has been in experimentation mode this March. That's what Spring Training, for a proven pitcher, is for. But while Lincecum has the luxury of a fan base that is familiar with him and his two-time reigning National League Cy Young form, Millwood does not. Acquired in an offseason trade with the Texas Rangers, Millwood was brought in to provide veteran leadership and stability to a youth-infused Orioles rotation.

"Our fans are interested. He's a big part of our team [and] people want to see better results," Trembley said in his office prior to Sunday's game, when Millwood's ERA sat at a bloated 29.70 after two official outings.

"We all want to see better results. Let's not say anything other than that."

It's not that Trembley didn't believe Millwood's insistence that he stinks in Spring Training. The numbers are there: an ERA over 6.00 in every spring in which he's made at least two starts, dating back to 2004.

"I trust that what he tells me is, in fact, the truth," Trembley said.

And the truth is Millwood needed a start like Sunday, if for no reason other than to put everyone else at ease. Taking the hill in a Spring Training game for the first time since March 11, the veteran right-hander chose not to work on his fourth-best pitch or throw four straight curveballs just to get the feel.

"[Sunday] was the first time I just kind of said, 'Screw it' and tried to pitch like it matters," Millwood said.

It was a matter of maneuvering, but Millwood successfully navigated around a lineup made up mostly of Phillies regulars, surrendering only a second-inning solo homer to Paul Hoover. The veteran right-hander worked his way out of jams, after allowing a double and single to open the game and walking two in the third inning.

"What he did in the first inning ought to tell you everything about Millwood," Trembley said. "He knows how to pitch. He used all his pitches. He went to the well three times [Sunday], he got his pitch count over 90. He battled his butt off."

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For Millwood, it was business as usual.

"It felt good," he said of the 94-pitch outing. "Like every other time, it feels like everything's getting a little bit better. It's starting to come together. It feels like I'm right on track [of] where I want to be."

If Millwood has ever worried about his progression this spring, he hasn't let it show. With 13 big league seasons under his belt, Millwood made it clear early in camp that he wouldn't sacrifice his self-imposed plan for the sake of a meaningless spring ERA.

Last season with Texas, he posted a 6.48 ERA over 25 spring innings and proceeded to toss seven innings of one-run ball on Opening Day. Millwood went at least seven innings in all five of his April starts and in his first two starts in May.

"He came here to pitch; he's going to be at the top of the rotation. Nothing's going to change that," Trembley said. "I mean, he was acquired for a purpose and a reason. What he does in Spring Training, one way or the other, doesn't affect that."

And it shouldn't, particularly when one factors in what's going on around baseball. A glimpse of American League box scores on any given day hardly makes Millwood's spring an abnormality. If anything, his stats are more of a regularity, as big-name arms in Florida and Arizona use the six weeks of spring to make minor tweaks and slight improvements.

Yankees starter CC Sabathia is working on correcting a flaw in his delivery, collapsing his back leg in the windup, and has allowed 10 runs on 16 hits in 14 innings this spring. Jered Weaver, the Angels' probable Opening Day pitcher, used Sunday's start to work on a new pitch and is sporting a 8.03 ERA after four outings. Detroit's Opening Day hurler, Justin Verlander, has a 6.10 ERA through his first three games.

And of course, there is Lincecuem, who is trying to gain comfort with his slider, which he now grips across the narrow-portion seams instead of parallel to them. His release point on his slider and curveball are slightly skewed, and he has yet to master his fastball location.

"I was fortunate to catch one of the best pitchers of all time," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, speaking of Nolan Ryan when the two were with the Astros. "His springs were always ugly. Guys are here working on things and that's what [Lincecum's] doing. He's going to be fine. His stuff is fine. He's healthy and you'll see [Lincecum] get better and better with each outing."

That's precisely what the Orioles are seeing out of Millwood, who turned in his best spring outing in Sunday's win. Following his first two poor starts, the veteran opted to throw five innings in an intrasquad game on his next scheduled turn so he wouldn't leave his teammates out to dry. Millwood said he felt "selfish" working on his pitches with the Orioles position players forced to labor along with him.

"The guy is down to earth," Trembley said of Millwood, who not only takes the team bus but is usually the first guy on board. "He's been a great influence on those younger guys. And I expect that at the end of the year, his addition to the media guide is going to be right where it's been -- 200 innings, he's not going to miss a start, he's going to give us a chance to win, he's going to pitch deep into games. I have to believe that."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.