Milone sets tone with solid spring debut (Nats lose 3-2)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Tommy Milone would need a lot of things - bad things, from the Nationals’ perspective - to happen to find his way into the opening day rotation. But a few more outings like he offered up today and the journeyman left-hander, if nothing else, will have made a strong impression on the club’s decision-makers, which could pay off down the road.

Handed the ball to start today’s Grapefruit League opener, Milone set the tone with a solid two-inning performance that was as efficient as it was effective. He allowed only one of six batters to reach base, erased him on a 1-4-3 double play and struck out three while throwing only 24 total pitches.

The-Ballpark-of-Palm-Beaches-curly-W-sidebar.jpg“Pretty good,” the 31-year-old said. “A little antsy at first. That’s to be expected, though. But everything felt good. Everything was located pretty well, especially for the first outing.”

A non-roster invitee to big league camp, Milone found out only two days ago he was starting today’s opener. He had faced hitters only once this spring, in a live batting practice session, but said he was ready for the assignment.

Drafted by the Nationals a decade ago, Milone made his major league debut in Washington in 2011 but was soon part of the blockbuster trade that brought Gio Gonzalez from Oakland. A reliable starter for the Athletics in 2012-13, he then battled through injuries, inconsistency and relocations. Milone has now pitched for five different big league organizations, most recently the Brewers and Mets last season.

The opportunity this winter to come back to the franchise that drafted him was too good to pass up.

“It was very welcoming,” he said. “The talks between (assistant general manager) Doug Harris, through my agent, everything was very positive. They seemed excited, and that’s something you want to see. So it was very comfortable.”

With A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde competing for the final spot in the Nationals’ opening day rotation, and veteran Edwin Jackson already positioned to step in should the need arise, Milone faces long odds. His goal for the spring, though, is simple.

“I want to prove that I’m back to being the pitcher that I was before when I was here before, and back in 2012-13, that time,” he said. “The last couple years haven’t been the greatest, and I’m out to prove that I’m not that pitcher anymore.”

Update: Jaron Long, new hitting coach Kevin Long’s son, replaced Milone on the mound for the bottom of the third and immediately got into trouble. Long plunked Tyler White with a pitch, then left a fastball up to Max Stassi and watched it fly over the left field wall. Kevin Long said he had only been able to watch his son pitch four times since high school, so he couldn’t wait to see him from the dugout this spring. While it had to be tough to watch those first two batters, Jaron Long did quickly settle down and pitched well. He retired the next six batters he faced, two on strikeouts, to end his afternoon.

Down 2-0, the Nationals tied the game up in the top of the fifth thanks to RBI singles from Chris Dominguez and Jose Marmolejos. But right-hander Brady Dragmire gave the lead right back on his first pitch in the bottom of the fifth, with J.D. Davis homering to left. The Nats continue to trail 3-2 after six innings.

Update II: The Nationals fall 3-2 in their Grapefruit League opener.

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