Millwood's past key in molding O's future

February 20, 2010|By Peter Schmuck

Kevin Millwood has been to the hill and back with some of the greatest pitchers of his generation, so there's really no reason to ask why it was so important for the Orioles to acquire someone like him to anchor their inexperienced starting rotation.

Obviously, the O's traded for him in the hope that he'll take some pressure off the younger pitchers and provide leadership both on the field and in the dugout. He's a 13-year veteran with significant playoff experience and 155ƒ|career victories, which should be enough to get their full attention, but the fact that he once was a solid component in one of the greatest rotations in baseball history adds a large extra layer of credibility.

He wasn't just a bystander. His first two full years in a rotation that included all-but-certain Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, he won 35 games and finished third in the 1999 voting for the National League Cy Young Award, so he knows a little something about breaking é into the majorƒ|leagues.

That's why his locker in the springƒ|training clubhouse is positioned strategically between 21-year old Chris Tillman and 23-year-old Brian Matusz, who don't let much come between them.

"I talked to Millwood about all that stuff," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "Where we put him in the locker room, what groups he's in when they run ... that's all been done intentionally. Millwood will be a leader on this pitching staff. Not that other guys won't be, but that's why we got him."

Of course, it's a little early to get a feel for what kind of impact he will have on the staff, but he has already made an impression. If there was a question about his desire to play for the Orioles when they acquired him from the Texas Rangers for reliever Chris Ray in December, there doesn't appear to be any question about his commitment to the club and his new role in its rebuilding effort.

"The work ethic has been outstanding," Trembley said. "I assume that other part [of the leadership equation] will come as well. This is a guy who has pitched with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. You need to just talk the game. Talk baseball. The young kids watch the game, but sometimes they don't know what they're looking at."

Millwood already seems to have bought into the whole mentorship mentality.

"I think it's going to be a lot of fun, seeing these guys learn and mature a little bit," Millwood, 35, said. "I think it's going to be exciting. There's nothing better than giving a guy a scouting report and seeing him take it to the field and see it work."

It's not a new concept for him. He played the veteran leader in the Texas rotation the past few years, and several young starters stepped up last season to help the Rangers win 87 games.

He's a solid pitcher and a solid guy. That's already obvious. Whether he'll be a dynamic, rah-rah leader is another matter, because he's also a fairly quiet guy who generally gets along with everybody. He said Friday that if you expect him to get in anybody's face in a leadership situation, you might be disappointed.

"I'm not going to change what I've done in the past,'' Millwood said. "I'm not a vocal guy, but if something needs to be said, I'll try to help guys out if I can."

That's just fine. It's not about discipline. It's about being an important part of the environment for the younger guys. It's about sitting in the dugout with one of them and analyzing a situation on the field, or noticing something and mentioning it in a more casual situation.

"I might bring something up in a conversation, or maybe ask the pitching coach about it to get his view,'' Millwood said. "When it comes down to it, we're here to win and help each other out, but I'm not going to step on toes."

Trembley isn't asking Millwood to be an enforcer. He just wants him to show the way and -- so far -- he's doing just that.

"He's the first guy for stretching," Trembley said. "He's the first going from field to field. That's what the No. 1 does."

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090 AM), and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimore„fsun.com/schmuckblog.

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