Nationals minor league Pitcher of the Year Tom Milone started against the Houston Astros on Tuesday and pitched well, allowing just one hit over two innings of shutout ball with no walks and no strikeouts. The left-hander, in Nationals accelerated camp and facing Houston minor leaguers, threw between 20 to 25 pitches, inducing a pair of flyouts and three groundouts.
"It felt good coming out of the hand," the former USC hurler reported. "I have no complaints. My arm felt great. I was locating for the most part. It wasn't as good as I will be in the season. But it was the first game so I am not too worried. I was keeping the ball down. There was a couple that got up in the zone but there it wasn't any damage."
Milone came out of the gates concentrating on locating the fastball in the first inning.
"For the first game, I was relying a lot on the fastball," Milone said. "I was trying to get a feel for the command, going in and out. It was mostly fastballs, and then maybe one curveball and one changeup. I was getting a feel for the strike zone. After that, the next inning I went out and threw kind of like I would in a real game."
Milone noticed Monday the Astros were not taking pitches, and that same strategy played out during his start
"They were hacking from the first pitch of the game," Milone said. "After that, I was like 'OK, here we go.' I figured (aggressiveness) would happen again. I stayed away from the middle of the plate. One guy got a hold of one, but he hit it right to the center fielder. He hit it well. But for the most part, their swings didn't look good coming off the bat."
Milone's next start will be Saturday and he is scheduled to go three innings. That is the normal progression through camp; each starter will add one inning to each successive start as they build strength through March.
The accelerated camp is filled with the top prospects in the Nationals organization and Milone said it has a different feel than the one he attended last spring.
"I think it is a lot of younger guys this season," Milone said, "because I remember being in this camp last year and I felt young and now I feel old. With guys like Sammy Solis and A.J. Cole, the Nationals are trying to get some pitching. I think that is what we need the most right now is some starting pitching so we can mow down some lineups."
Milone went 12-5 in 27 starts with a 2.85 ERA for Double-A Harrisburg last season. Over the winter, Milone got to teach baseballl, giving pitching lessons in California, followed by coaching an under-12 travel baseball squad. Milone found the experience of working with younger players very rewarding.
"It was cool because it was the first time I was with a team for two or three times a week," Milone said. "The kids are coming to you for advice and extra work, whether it is hitting or pitching. It was great to you actually see them get better and you feel like you were helping them get better."
Now with the focus on the accelerated camp, Milone wants to concentrate on getting better against left handed hitters.
"I think lefties hit me way too good last year," Milone said. "I want to bear down on that. The game Tuesday, I gave up one hit and it was to a lefty. I can tell when I am out there I am not as comfortable when a lefty is up rather than a right-handed batter."
Milone realizes what sometimes happens against left-handed hitters. Last season, his ERA was 2.60 against righties, but 3.57 against lefties.
"I leave pitches over the plate against lefties, so I have to figure it out and I need to work on that," Milone said. "That is what spring training is for. It has got to be psychological because sometimes I do feel comfortable and sometimes I don't. I think it depends on the day or how I feel but I know I do need to get better at it."