CLEARWATER, FLA. — — Kevin Millwood kept telling those who asked, including Orioles manager Dave Trembley, not to worry. His spring numbers, Millwood said, are always terrible.
Despite allowing a combined 11 runs in his first two appearances against big leaguers this spring, Millwood promised he would be ready for the regular season.
Before his solid five-inning outing on Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies - his first start in the Grapefruit League in 10 days - Trembley said he was giving Millwood the benefit of the doubt.
He had no choice, really, since the 35-year-old is penciled in as Trembley's Opening Day starter. Millwood's struggles, however, had been a primary storyline this March.
"Our fans are interested. He is a big part of our team. People want to see better results," Trembley said before the game. "We all want to see better results, let's not say anything other than that. But we are not going to get too worked up over it if it doesn't happen."
Millwood, an offseason trade acquisition from Texas, delivered better results, settling his manager and potentially some Orioles fans for now. He allowed one run in five innings, throwing 94 pitches (59 strikes). Afterward he said it might have been his last start against a big league roster, since his next two Grapefruit League starts would fall against division rivals, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.
"I might throw a minor league game instead of those games," Millwood said. "I'm going to face both those guys pretty quick, pretty early in the season, and I'd rather not see them in the spring. I think we've both seen enough of each other. … If they've forgotten anything, I'd rather not remind them."
Therefore, Millwood said, he treated Sunday's game against the Phillies as if it were the regular season. He threw his changeup in situations where he normally would instead of working on refining his pitches. And he dropped his ERA to 12.96 in three games (not including a minor league camp outing).
Sunday "was the first time I just kind of said, 'Screw it' and try to pitch like it matters," he said.
In the first, Millwood allowed a double to Jimmy Rollins and a single to Placido Polanco before striking out Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and getting Jayson Werth to fly out to end the threat.
That's when Trembley exhaled, a lot more confident that Millwood - who has had a spring ERA above 6.00 in six of his past seven preseasons - will be the wily veteran he expects when the season begins.
"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 got his pitch count over 90. He battled his butt off. He pitched great."
Trembley, however, still did not officially name Millwood his Opening Day starter - though it may be the worst-kept secret in camp.
"I am willing to say that when I am ready to say it," Trembley said.