Tommy Milone rejoins the Washington Nationals on a minor-league deal. What role will he play in 2018? He could be the fifth starter if all goes well.
Milone, 30, came up with the Nats organization as their tenth-round draft pick in 2008. In his short tenure in Washington, he is best known for taking Dillon Gee of the New York Mets deep in his first major-league at bat. Before the 2012 season, he was part of the trade bringing Gio Gonzalez east from the Oakland Athletics.
The signing of Milone to a minor-league contract is the definition of a low-risk, high-reward deal. No doubt he gets the chance this spring to audition as a fifth starter with Erick Fedde and A.J. Cole.
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Whether he wins a spot is doubtful. A throwback lefty who pitches to contact, Milone had a terrible 2017. With the New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers, he went 1-3 with a 7.63 ERA in 17 games. In eight starts, his 1.634 WHIP and 57 ERA+ bounced him out of the starting rotation.
What the Nats have in Milone is a reclamation project for pitching coach Derek Lilliquist.
At his best, Milone played a key role in Oakland’s 2012 playoff run. Twice a 10+ game winner, he soft-tossed his way through the strike zone winning 13 in 2012 and 12 in 2013.
Because he throws a high percentage of strikes, Milone has never had a season where he allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. The last time he cleared 100 innings in a major-league season was with the Minnesota Twins in 2015 when he tossed 128.2.
With a surplus of lefties in the bullpen, Milone would need to wow this spring to make the roster that way. His ceiling as a starter is at five. If he is to win the spot, he must show Washington he can give five-six innings every fifth day while keeping the Nats in the game.
A tall task when you look at his splits last year.
In Milwaukee, his ERA was 6.43 over 21 innings. With the Mets over 27.1, it ballooned to 8.56. Overall in 48.1 frames, he allowed 65 hits and a whopping 15 homers. That puts you into tee-ball territory.
A year in Syracuse, getting his game in shape, is not the worst result for Milone in 2018. Only 31 when pitchers and catchers take center stage, the need for left-handed pitching gives him years to pitch in the majors. Although he was signed as a starter, a switch to the pen is not out of reason.
File Milone’s name away over the holidays. You will see plenty of him in West Palm Beach come March.