Twins’ Milone tightening grip on rotation spot
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Twins are content to let three pitchers duel to the final days of spring training for the two remaining jobs in their starting rotation, even as Tommy Milone squeezes his vise grip on the No. 4 spot.Milone was sharp again Thu...
JUPITER, Fla. - The Twins are content to let three pitchers duel to the final days of spring training for the two remaining jobs in their starting rotation, even as Tommy Milone squeezes his vise grip on the No. 4 spot.
Milone was sharp again Thursday in Minnesota’s 8-4 exhibition victory over the Miami Marlins, a win powered by a pair of home runs by struggling slugger Oswaldo Arcia.
Never dashing or overpowering, Milone was simply steady again, consistently working around the plate with a four-pitch selection that kept Marlins hitters flailing for six innings.
Except one at-bat in the sixth.
Miami’s hulking superstar Giancarlo Stanton attacked the left-hander’s 87-mph fastball and bashed a towering home run that cleared the left-field fence and the Marlins’ two-story clubhouse before landing in a picnic area on the fringes of the complex.
“Pretty impressed,” Milone said of the 2014 National League home run champion. “You know how big and strong he is but to actually see it in person is pretty impressive. Obviously, it’s not ideal to be the pitcher that gives it up. At that point you’ve got to sit and watch and admire the kind of strength he has.”
Of course, it’s easier for Milone to appreciate such raw power in an exhibition game when he is credibly building his repertoire for a regular-season job.
The Twins are scrutinizing Milone, Ricky Nolasco and Tyler Duffey for the Nos. 4-5 spots in the rotation following Opening Day starter Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes.
“Obviously, you can’t help but have it in the back of your mind, but when you step between the lines you’ve got a job to do,” said Milone, who lowered his Grapefruit League earned-run average to 2.40. “You’ve got to get outs. In order to do that you’ve got to keep your mind right. Thinking about that stuff isn’t going to help you any, so I just forget about it while I’m out there and do my job.”
Milone allowed two runs on six hits, working so efficiently he had to throw an extra 15 pitches in the bullpen during the seventh inning to reach his threshold for the day.
“Fastball command has been a big key to how successful I’ve been so far,” Milone said. “Everything else works off that, keeping hitters off balance, just throwing everything for strikes.”
Manager Paul Molitor said Milone’s ability to spot his curveball, change-up, cutter and two-seam fastballs that average just 88 mph make him unpredictable for hitters to face.
Milone has a 3.87 career ERA in 619 innings. He won nine games in 23 starts in 2015 for Minnesota despite losing his starting job during a roster crunch in May when Nolasco and Brian Duensing returned from injuries.
Politics are in play as much as production when it comes to solidifying the back end of the rotation. Nolasco is working back from two injury-plagued seasons, with three years and $37 million remaining on his contract that would make him an expensive long reliever.
Duffey has the liveliest arm among the three, and is coming off an impressive late-season call-up in 2015.
“It’s a little delicate in how this thing’s going to play (out),” Molitor acknowledged. “We have three people involved there, and there’s been a lot of good things. Whenever we decide things, we’re going to have to figure out how to handle the other component.”
Molitor said the plan is to announce the Nos. 4-5 spots at once and not incrementally. The top three, plus Milone, have one more start this spring; Duffey is on pace for two more.
Meanwhile, Arcia hit his first two home runs of a pivotal spring for the 2015 Opening Day left fielder, who was banished to the minors in May and bypassed by Eddie Rosario.
Arcia hit a pair of opposite-field home runs off left-handers Adam Conley and Brad Hand, a former Chaska High School standout, putting to use what he has been working on during batting practice.
“He’s been working pretty hard to stay level on his swing and trying to keep the lefties going up the middle,” Arcia said through translator Rudy Hernandez. “So it’s a great feeling.”
Arcia also struck out for the 11th time in 36 at-bats and is batting .222 this spring.
He reported to camp in better shape than past years and has impressed the Twins with solid defense. But Arcia is out of minor-league options and running out of time to secure a spot on Minnesota’s roster as an extra outfielder.
“We’re trying to get a good look at him,” Molitor said. “Everyone knows his situation. I’m sure he’s aware and trying really hard. It hasn’t really happened. We’ve liked everything he’s been doing (but) the results haven’t been great. It was probably good timing for him to step up and have a good day.”