PAWTUCKET – Kevin Millwood has now made three starts with the Pawtucket Red Sox. It’s still uncertain what the veteran pitcher can provide, if anything, to the big-league team.
Take Sunday’s outing against Charlotte, a mixed bag if there ever was one. Millwood was able to make the necessary adjustments to last five innings, retiring the final 12 batters he faced in Pawtucket’s 2-1 win. Getting on a roll was made possible after Millwood started to unleash more and more off-speed pitches, which in turn made his early-game struggles a distant memory.
Certainly the final numbers – one run on four hits with four strikeouts and one walk – suggest that it wasn’t a herky-jerky outing, but Millwood made it clear how hard his 36-year-old body had to work.
“It was one of those days where the body didn’t feel good. I was struggling with my mechanics early, but I was able to get into a rhythm,” said Millwood after winning for the second time in three starts with the PawSox. “I kind of slowed everything down a little bit and wasn’t worried about velocity or anything like that. All I was worried about was trying to throw the ball where I wanted to throw it.”
The first inning proved especially taxing for Millwood, who required 27 pitches to set down the Knights. He went to a 2-0 count with each of the first four hitters he faced and on two occasions paid the price, surrendering a double and a walk. Millwood was able to weave his way out of danger, striking out Dallas McPherson on a 69-mile-per-hour curveball in the dirt and Jordan Danks on a changeup.
A leadoff home run by former Mets prospect Lastings Milledge, coming on a 3-2 slider, greeted Millwood in the second inning. The next two hitters reached as Millwood was forced to dig deep into his bag of tricks once again. A sacrifice bunt pushed runners in scoring position with one down for Charlotte, but Millwood got out of dodge thanks to a sharp groundout to first and a soft fly to left.
Millwood needed 42 pitches to get six outs, a high sum that forced him to think twice about attacking the Charlotte hitters in a different fashion. Instead of relying on placing his 86-87 mph fastball in the right spot – the radar gun at McCoy had him topping out at 88 – Millwood started deploying his changeup more and more.
“Being able to use (the changeup) more makes my curveball better. Those two pitches kind of help each other out, I guss,” noted Millwood, who signed a minor-league deal with Boston on May 19.
“Charlotte has a ton of lefties and (the changeup) is an effective pitch when you have a bunch of those guys in the lineup,” said catcher Michael McKenry. “It’s a pitch that came up big for him.”
It’s also a pitch that allowed Millwood to breeze through his final three innings. An eight-pitch third was followed up by a 15-pitch fourth. Millwood needed 12 pitches to record his third straight 1-2-3 frame in the fifth. He finished his outing with 84 pitches – 50 for strikes.
As well as he threw his curveball and his changeup, for Millwood, everything boils down to fastball command. He’s now allowed two earned runs in his last two Triple-A starts, spanning 11 2/3 innings pitched. His ERA in three starts with the PawSox stands at 3.77.
“I don't think I have to hit a gnat in the butt,” he said. “As long as my fastball is moving and I can get it within a few inches of where I want it, I think I'll be all right. Today, early, it wasn't very good. The third, fourth and fifth (innings), I felt like I was able to control it a little better and get on a roll.”
The Red Sox aren’t asking Millwood to save their season. They are just looking for him to be serviceable major-league pitcher, which is probably the best way to sum up Sunday's outing.
“Right now I feel much better now than when I first got here, and believe it or not I feel much better than I did after my last start,” said Millwood, referencing the one run he allowed in 6 2/3 innings against Durham eight days ago. “As along as things keep on getting better, then I’ll be happy. At the same time, I'm figuring my mechanics out a little more and getting closer to where I feel like I need to be to contribute somewhere else.”
Said McKenry, “He’s a guy who’s going to give you the best he has, no matter what. He did that (Sunday). He started out by trying to figure out how to compete and towards the end he was lights out.”
Randy Williams provided two innings of scoreless relief, striking out four. In both innings the veteran lefty was asked to pitch out of a first-and-third jam, but Williams got a double play to end the sixth and a swinging strikeout to retire Charlotte in the seventh. The 35-year-old Williams has now pitched 6 1/3 innings in four outings since coming off the disabled list earlier this month.
“We’re trying to get his reps up that he becomes a two-inning guy,” said manager Arnie Beyeler, whose club ended its four-game losing skid.
Jason Rice secured the two-inning save, collecting two strikeouts. After running into some trouble in the eighth, Rice shut the Knights down on six pitches in the ninth inning for his second save of the season. The game’s deciding run came on a hustle play by Daniel Nava in the third inning, breaking a 1-1 game. With one down in the third inning and the bases loaded, Lars Anderson grounded a ball sharply to first base. Charlotte's Jim Gallagher fielded the ball, stepped on the bag and threw to second base where the tag was applied to Hector Luna, who started on first base to begin the play. Before the tag was applied to Luna, Nava crossed the plate. Nava also factored in Pawtucket’s first run as he led off the last of the first with his third home run. Nava is 8-for-14 in his last four games and is riding a five-game hitting streak overall.
EXTRA BASES: Darnell McDonald’s rehab assignment has come to an end as the outfielder was nowhere to be found in the McCoy clubhouse before or after the game. McDonald is expected to rejoin the Red Sox Tuesday in Tampa Bay with infielder Drew Sutton on his way back to the PawSox. … A reminder that tonight’s game will start at 6 p.m. in order to accommodate Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Boston. Kyle Weiland will oppose Charlotte’s Joe Bisenius.
Charlotte 010 000 000 – 1-9-1
Pawtucket 101 000 00x – 2-4-1
Matt Zeleski, Miguel Socolovich (7) and Donny Lucy. Kevin Millwood, Randy Williams (6), Jason Rice (8) and Michael McKenry. 2B: Jim Gallagher; Tony Thomas. HR: Lastings Milledge; Daniel Nava.
WP: Millwood (3-1). LP: Zaleski (1-3). Save: Rice (2).