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PAWTUCKET â It wasnât as if Kevin Millwood was deliberately ambiguous when asked if the veteran pitcher envisions finishing the season with the Pawtucket Red Sox. The simple answer is that Millwood doesnât have one.
âI donât know. Thatâs kind of tough to answer right now,â said a well-meaning Millwood after tossing a bullpen session Tuesday morning.
Thereâs always been a sense that Millwood could pack his bags and walk away from the PawSox at any given moment. Such a belief stems from a gentlemanâs agreement in place that stipulates Millwood can leave for a major-league opportunity and the Red Sox wonât stand in his way. Given that the 36-year-old âfeels like Iâm back to a level where I can compete anywhere,â itâs possible that a team presently in the playoff chase reaches out and provides Millwood with said opportunity.
Now that the non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone, Millwood would have to pass through waivers in order to hitch his wagon someplace else. How this arcane process works is that each MLB team, in reverse order of the overall standings this season, is afforded a chance to claim a player. If a claim is put in, the original team can perform one of three actions: 1). Let the player go without compensation, 2). Pull the player off waivers, thus making him untradeable, and 3). Work out a deal with the claiming team.
The notion of Boston giving Millwood away and not get at least some sort of compensation in return could also come into play. What is clear is that thereâs nary a spot for him in Bostonâs rotation, not even with word that Clay Buchholz is potentially done for the season. Any sliver of hope of Millwood making a start for the Red Sox probably went out the window the moment Erik Bedard was acquired from Seattle.
âYou just have to talk to people and figure out what the plans are and go from there,â said Millwood when asked about the Sox looking elsewhere for pitching help instead of his direction. âIâm not trying to read into anything too deep except to figure out whatâs going on. I canât worry about things I have no control over. I just want to pitch well and see what happens.â
Naturally Millwood, who in 12 starts with Pawtucket is 5-1 with a 4.12 ERA, would like nothing more than to return to the bigs for one final hurrah. If not, heâs perfectly content with taking his 159-137 major-league record to his Georgia estate and spend more time with his two sons.
âObviously I want it to happen, otherwise I wouldnât be here. I donât know how long itâll be before I get that chance or if I get one,â said the calm-and-collected North Carolina native. âSince coming to Pawtucket [in late May] I feel like Iâve been able to iron some things out. Iâve enjoyed being here; itâs definitely been a good place and a good time.â
Millwood cautions anyone who reads too much into his 10-strikeout outing against Louisville Saturday night. âI was kind of all over the place, but I was able to make some pitches. The 10 strikeouts are nice, but at the same time I threw a lot more pitches than you want to throw in (5 2/3 innings).â
In the eyes of PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler, Millwood still possesses the ability to get major league hitters out. âSaturday was a funny game in that he ran into a lot of deep counts, then struck guys out. He was visibly frustrated, but he made the pitches to get out of jams. He doesnât give in; heâd rather walk a guy than lay something in there. I think young, aggressive hitters struggle with things like that, which is separation, but he definitely takes advantage of that with his experience.â
Good news on the Kalish front
The PawSox were winners long before taking the field shortly after noontime Tuesday. Outfield prospect Ryan Kalish went through a vigorous pregame workout that included batting practice, playing catch with trainer Jon Jochim and standing in the PawSoxâ bullpen with a bat while Millwood pitched. The session concluded with Kalish taking imaginary swings and running the bases.
âI was watching the ball come out of (Millwoodâs) hand because youâve got to get ready for that,â Kalish said about the pitch recognition examination he underwent.
It was the type of fitness/baseball-related demonstration that suggests Kalish, sidelined since April with first a strained shoulder and later a stiff neck, is not that far away from returning to game action, which could happen within a weekâs time.
âJust taking steps, man. Itâs been a long time since I felt good,â Kalish said as beads of sweat poured down his face. âIâve felt good for 10 [consecutive] days. Itâs been a long time since I felt good.â
Kalish spoke in reflective tones about the painstaking starts and stops heâs endured along the way. Such willingness to open up on what has been a forgettable season hints that the worst for Kalish is, indeed, over and better times lie ahead.
âThe shoulder healed in about five weeks. Next thing you know I have a neck injury. Iâve had stiff necks in the past and itâs taken three or four days, but Iâve probably been set back four or five times, just not feeling good enough to play,â stated Kalish, who figures to play a game or two with Single-A Lowell before rejoining the PawSox. âIf I had known [the whole process would entail three months], it would have been frustrating, but itâs the setback that hurts you inside. This is what I love to do and to have it taken away, itâs tough.â
Salvaging the season isnât Kalishâs greatest concern. Getting back on the field is.
âI donât care what my numbers are at this point. I just want to play and feel right about it. Out of this season, I may get 150 total at-bats, meaning itâs tough to judge where Iâm at as far as my development, â said Kalish. âI just want to feel good and healthy and be able to go into the offseason knowing that I can come into next season feeling good rather than answering questions about my health.â