Even stand-up Millwood has wilted under weight of O's season

Veteran pitcher has been boon to Orioles, but they've been a drain on him

July 06, 2010|By Peter Schmuck

It seems like a very long time ago that the Orioles announced the deal to acquire Kevin Millwood from the Texas Rangers and conducted a conference call to introduce the veteran right-hander to the local media, but one thing about that evening still stands out.

Millwood didn't sound too thrilled to be coming to Baltimore.

It became obvious when he got to spring training that he's just a very low-key guy, so maybe we all just assumed too much about his lack of enthusiasm during that call and ensuing interviews, or maybe he saw all this coming.

Give him credit. He never complained, and he willingly accepted the job of helping a group of young Orioles pitching prospects figure things out in an environment that hasn't exactly been conducive to their long-term development. He also took on the role of staff ace to take pressure off Jeremy Guthrie and eat innings at the front end of the rotation.

For his trouble, he waited 21/2 months for enough offensive support to earn his first victory of the year and now appears to be wilting under the weight of this discouraging season.

How else could you explain his performance Monday in Detroit, where he lasted just one inning, threw 45 pitches and allowed five runs? It was the third-shortest outing of his 14-year career and the sixth time in his past eight starts that he gave up at least five runs.

Now, we're told, there is more to it than that. The Orioles have placed Millwood on the 15-day disabled list -- with what they are calling a forearm strain -- to give him some extended down time with the All-Star break coming up. He had not previously said he was hurt, but his velocity has sagged, and you have to wonder when a guy's ERA jumps from 3.89 to 5.77 in a little more than a month. If you're the cynical type, you also might wonder whether this is a very convenient time to shut him down for a start and make room on the roster for the return of Felix Pie. But if the guy says his arm hurts and his performance confirms that, who's to argue?

Millwood acknowledged when his effectiveness began to decline in early June that the club's inability to score runs for him was taking a psychological toll and causing him to try too hard, which might have led to soreness and fatigue. Either way, this becomes just another in a long series of setbacks for the O's during this lost season.

It's still hard to second-guess the decision to trade for Millwood, though there were questions at the time about his likely effectiveness pitching in the American League East at this late stage of his career.

That wasn't a problem during the first run through the division. In his first start against each of the club's AL East opponents, he was a combined 0-1 with a 2.42ERA. It wasn't until he ran aground in three consecutive starts against the New York Yankees and Mets (20 earned runs, 162/3 innings) in early June that anybody had reason to question his ability to compete in baseball's toughest division.

Even with his ugly win-loss record, there had been speculation that he might have some value during the midseason trading period, but that has quieted with his past two ineffective starts, and it certainly isn't going to resurface as long as there are questions about his health.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the DL assignment, but it might make sense to rest him for a couple of weeks in the hope that he bounces back and becomes tradable by the July 31 nonwaiver deadline or before the Aug. 31 deadline for traded players to be eligible for the postseason.

Whether he stays through the end of the season or not, he has earned the respect of his teammates and -- you would hope -- the fans for suffering through this season without complaint while the team he left is making a playoff run.

It's hard to quantify, but I think Millwood has had a positive effect on the young Orioles pitchers -- particularly Brian Matusz, who suffered through his own seemingly interminable winless streak (13 starts) but has maintained his focus well enough to post a 3.13ERA since June 1.

Whether the Orioles have had a positive effect on Millwood is an entirely different story.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and with Brett Hollander at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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