Millwood's intrasquad performance lets Orioles breathe easier

Pitcher's first two exhibition appearances resulted in 29.70 ERA

March 17, 2010|By Peter Schmuck

SARASOTA, Fla. — — It's going to take a while longer to unravel the mystery of Kevin Millwood, but his workmanlike performance in Tuesday's intrasquad game at Ed Smith Stadium probably generated a huge organizational sigh of relief.

Why probably?

Because no one in the organization was willing to acknowledge that there had been any angst associated with Millwood's first two exhibition appearances, which resulted in a 29.70 ERA and plenty of eyebrow-raising outside the Orioles' spring complex.

Millwood insisted that he was just working on stuff. Team officials insisted that he knew what he was doing and that there was no real concern about his fitness to start the regular season three weeks from now. Everybody kept saying everything was just ducky, which always makes you wonder.

Maybe now they really feel that way after Tuesday's five-inning performance against an array of Orioles prospects, during which Millwood threw 88 pitches and threw his fastball up to 88 mph. He dominated the young hitters with a sharp curveball for four innings before experimenting some more with his changeup and giving up three runs in the fifth.

He has been saying all along that he doesn't care about the results during spring training, but he acknowledged that he was happy to get better ones for a change.

"It is nice to be able to get a few guys out," he said. "But then again, it really doesn't matter if I go out and get beat around, as long as I'm getting something accomplished."

That might be true, but you can bet there were a lot of people wondering why the Orioles chose to sequester Millwood at Ed Smith Stadium while David Hernandez was taking a turn in the Grapefruit League rotation against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers.

The team cast the decision to give Millwood an intrasquad start as part of a larger plan to reduce the number of times the starters face American League competition during the spring. That will seem more plausible when Brian Matusz and some of the other starters with much less of an advance scouting paper trail skip a Grapefruit League start against the Yankees or Red Sox.

Millwood didn't sugarcoat it. He said he wanted to make an extended appearance in an intrasquad game because he felt bad leaving teammates standing in the field so long during his first two exhibition starts.

"It's a big advantage for me," he said. "It's hard to work on things when you're facing Joe Mauer and guys like that. You feel like you're leaving your teammates out there all day. You almost feel a little selfish."

The less-formal intrasquad format allows the coaching staff to manipulate the game to get the optimum number of pitches, innings or at-bats for players who are working their way back into shape or working on a specific aspect of the game.

For instance, when Millwood started the fifth inning Tuesday, pitching coach Rick Kranitz informed the coaches and umpires that he would stay on the mound for up to five outs to get his pitch count up. That didn't turn out to be necessary, because he went back to work on his changeup and gave up several hits to extend the inning.

Still, Kranitz was thrilled with Millwood's performance, not that he or anybody else on the coaching staff or in the front office ever had any doubts.

"I liked what I saw," Kranitz said. "Every time he goes out there he closes the gap, the circle gets a little bit smaller as far as where he needs to be. He got a lot out of today. We're starting to see some consistency in his release point and good life on his pitches. It's coming around."

Catcher Matt Wieters, who stayed back to catch Millwood for the first time in a game situation, was impressed with the way the veteran right-hander mixed his pitches and worked the hitters.

"He was able to work in with all his pitches, and he was able to be very successful," Wieters said. "He might have gotten a little tired as we got around 70 pitches or so, but that's to be expected when you get stretched out for the first time. But I thought it was very good."

Kranitz liked something else. He liked that Millwood - who was closing in on 90 pitches in only his third competitive outing of the spring - did not want to give up the ball, even in an intrasquad game.

"He's old school," Kranitz said. "You've got to love that he's a guy who doesn't want to come out of a game. It's a great lesson for all of these kids. Don't ever be satisfied when you're taken out of a game."

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

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