Tommy Milone puts up valuable start at right time for Nationals

August 1, 2018

Midway through Tommy Milone’s season at Triple-A Syracuse, the left-handed starter began to feel like his old self. It had been a while.

Milone, a non-roster invite to the Washington Nationals’ spring training, hadn’t earned a major league win since April 12, 2017. Manager Dave Martinez said if he could keep throwing strikes, like he was during spring training, Milone could be a useful lefty to have in the organization.

“Everything” felt right Wednesday, when Milone made his second start of the season for Washington in place of the injured Stephen Strasburg. He proved to be more than just useful, completing seven innings of one-run baseball and striking out nine New York Mets en route to the Nationals’ 5-3 win.

“It’s been kind of a roller coaster ride, really,” Milone said. “I spent probably the last couple years trying to get back to my old self.”

Before the game, Martinez thought he’d be happy if he could get five innings from Milone, as much as Milone threw last week against Miami. But he looked good through five frames, so Martinez sent him out for another. He retired the side in order in the sixth.

“You know what?” Martinez then said. “Let him go out there again and see what happens.”

Milone retired the seventh without trouble, either, to complete his longest major league outing since 2016. For the Nationals, it marked two straight games in which their starter lasted seven innings, a welcome sight after the squad struggled to find length from pitchers not named Max Scherzer at times in July, taxing the bullpen.

“Tommy today was fabulous, he really was,” Martinez said. “He came out early and set the precedent throwing strikes, getting ahead early in the count, and his changeup was really, really good.”

Washington drafted Milone in 2008 and he made his debut in 2011. Then he was traded to Oakland in the deal that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington. Martinez saw Milone work with the Athletics, and he thought the veteran arm commanded the zone well during spring training.

Milone may not have a place on the 25-man squad once Strasburg returns. But performances like Wednesday, in which he held the Mets in check through seven innings, are valuable if the Nationals are to make up ground in the National League East and earn a playoff berth.

“He’s doing a great job, just mixing speeds,” Bryce Harper said. “Throwing his changeup, his heater up, top of the zone, and getting some chased balls as well. He’s done a great job out there the last two starts and we’ve needed it. It’s been huge.”

Milone skirted out of danger in the third inning when two Mets reached on singles. That was the only time the Mets would threaten him with a big inning. Jose Reyes hit a solo home run in the fifth. Milone retired the final eight batters after Reyes to close out his day.

Without much velocity to his fastball Milone’s first pitch of the game was an 86.5 mph 4-seam fastball he relies on placement. Milone didn’t walk a batter last week, nor did he Wednesday. His fastest fastball notched 88 mph on the radar gun. His curveballs fell into the 70s. He fits the bill of a crafty lefty.

Milone threw first-pitch strikes to nine of the first 10 batters he faced Wednesday, continuing a trend that helped him to record 113 punchouts in 109 2/3 innings at Triple-A Syracuse this year.

So, when he faced the Mets on Wednesday, a team he played for last season, he carried over the form he cultivated in the minors to his latest big-league stint in the stadium his career first began.

“I’m happy that I’m up here again and I’m able to pitch in meaningful games,” Milone said. “You always want to pitch well against your old team. You know, maybe you have a little bit more fire. But I just wanted to go out there and put together a quality start and give the team a chance to win.”

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