Former Nationals hurler Milone right at home in California

Continuing to display the promise demonstrated in his Nationals late-season introduction, left-hander Tommy Milone is off to a great start with the Oakland Athletics.

Through nine starts, the former Nationals hurler has gone 6-3 with a 3.75 ERA, recording 32 strikeouts to lead the Athletics.

The southpaw has adjusted well, returning to his home state in a trade with pitchers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, and catcher Derek Norris, during the offseason. The Nationals received pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Robert Gilliam in the headline-making swap.

Both teams can boast the trade has worked out well in the short term. Gonzalez has made a big splash with the Nationals, going a team-best 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA.

Milone, a Saugus, Calif., native, said he has enjoyed his first two months with Oakland and continued the momentum from that attention-grabbing September debut for the Nationals in 2011.

“Obviously, I couldn’t be happier with the opportunity I have been given with Oakland and the way things have started,” Milone said. “Right away, I felt like (the A’s) had confidence in me going into spring training. I kept telling myself I had the means to make the rotation spot and I did. Now it is my job to keep that spot and keep going and hopefully help the team with as many wins as I can.”

It also doesn’t hurt to be familiar with your surroundings.

The home and away splits are stunning. Milone is 4-0 with a 0.60 ERA and 14 strikeouts and no home runs allowed at Coliseum. On the road, Milone is 2-3 with a 7.16 ERA and six homers allowed.

He has given up 16 hits in 30 innings at home and 33 hits in 27 2/3 innings away. Milone has given up two earned runs at home in four starts, while surrendering 22 earned runs in five games away from Oakland.

milone-pitch-grey-sidebar.jpgMilone continued his home dominance in his last start, going seven innings, allowing five hits and one run against the Angels for his team-leading sixth win of the season.

Is it being home in California and pitching in the cavernous Coliseum confines that have contributed to the amazing home record?

“I think it is a little bit of both,” Milone said. “It is our home field, where we spend most of our time here. We don’t draw as well as other teams do on the road. It is still good atmosphere. It is such a big park. You can get a couple to three outs just from guys hitting foul balls. Balls that would be home runs in other fields are just long fly balls here. It really helps.”

Milone started the season off well, had a hiccup in Boston and now is rolling again, preparing for Sunday’s home start against the New York Yankees. In is last three starts, Milone is 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA and 13 strikeouts.

So, is Milone a different pitcher since moving from the Nationals to the Oakland A’s?

“I haven’t really changed anything or the style of pitcher that I am,” Milone said. “I try to throw strikes and get the guy out of there as soon as possible. I am not trying to strike the guy out. I want to stay in the game as long as I can. I feel like if I try to stay in there and strike somebody out, it will take too many pitches.”

How spot on is that advice? Sound familiar?

Ironically, that is same advice Nationals manager Davey Johnson wants his pitchers, most recently, Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, to implement. Don’t worry about striking out every hitter, but work on getting to that pitch that the hitter can’t get a good piece of and just grounds out.

Milone said, as with many pitchers, he has been concentrating on finding a way to get guys out (evidenced by the 13 strikeouts in his last three starts) versus dancing around the plate and playing keep-away.

“From September of last year (with the Nationals), I have worked on trying not to nibble too much and get them out as soon as possible,” Milone said.

Has the Oakland pitching staff changed the way he pitches or has it done anything different from what he was taught in the Nationals’ organization?

“No, not at all,” Milone said. “(Oakland Athletics pitching coordinator Gil Patterson) just said he knows what kind of pitcher I am. He told me to just go out and do your thing and if he sees something that he knows he needs to say something, he is going to say it. He is not just going to sit back and let it be wrong. There hasn’t been an issue with that. (Patterson) is always there. I feel like he doesn’t have to do (much tweaking) with my approach at this point.”

And during those off-days, Milone has checked the standings in the NL East and been very pleased to see the Nationals off to a hot start.

“I am so happy for them,” Milone said. “I knew (when I was there) it was just a year or a couple of years away for them. You see what they can do with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and how they want to win right now when they got Gio (Gonzalez).”

Milone said it also gives him a certain measure of pride that he was able to be a part of the Nationals during those early years when they were trying to build up the farm system to get to this point where they are competitive every game.

“I am not surprised that they are doing this well right now,” Milone said. “I am proud I was able to be a part of that for a little bit. It was a great opportunity that I got with them and I am happy they are successful now.”

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