Washington Nationals roster hopeful Tommy Milone has gotten off to a great start this spring. Could he make the Opening Day roster?
Even if Jake Arrieta does not don the Curly W in 2018, and the rumors turn out to be nothing more than speculation, the Washington Nationals will boast one of the most dominant starting rotations in the league.
The fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs, but the Nats’ front four, featuring Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark, is elite. A.J. Cole entered the spring as the clear frontrunner for the fifth spot, with Erick Fedde being his best competition, but another name has entered the mix.
It is still early, but Tommy Milone is making quite the impression. The 31-year-old lefty has pitched six scoreless innings, racking up six strikeouts.
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Milone, a former Nats farmhand, signed a minor league deal with the team this offseason. His chances of making the major league roster appeared to be slim to none, but he has now forced himself into consideration.
If Milone continues to pitch well, the Nats will have a difficult decision to make at the end of the month.
126 of Milone’s 146 career appearances have come as a starter, so the rotation would be his most obvious destination at the major league level. As things currently stand, that spot is Cole’s to lose.
Cole pitched well in his spring debut on Thursday, recording two scoreless innings with three strikeouts. If Cole continues to impress, he will likely begin the season as the fifth starter.
If Cole earns the starting role, Milone could theoretically become a long reliever. The Nats’ bullpen is currently lacking a bonafide long man, with Sammy Solis being the most qualified for the job, so there could be a spot for Milone.
Relieving has not been a strength of Milone’s throughout his career, as he’s pitched to a 6.99 ERA in 28.1 innings, but it’s a small sample size. He also has not pitched as well as he has this spring in several years, so he could enjoy more success out of the bullpen now.
One thing to keep in mind is that Cole is out of options. If he does not make the major league roster, he must pass through waivers before heading to the minors. Seeing as he turned in a strong 2017 and is still relatively young, it is unlikely that he would clear waivers.
The Nats still have about three weeks until they have to make this decision, but Milone is making things interesting. If he is willing to pitch out of the bullpen, he could break camp with the club.
Spring training games are essentially meaningless, especially this early in the exhibition schedule. Fans should not get overly excited by spring performances, but it is hard not to notice Milone. Keep an eye on him as a dark horse candidate to make the major league roster.