PAWTUCKET — Kevin Millwood isn’t much different than the average working man who is nearing the end of his professional career.
The 36-year-old veteran of 14 big league seasons is proud of his accomplishments (159 wins, third in the 1999 National League Cy Young voting) and determined to go out on his own terms, pitching baseballs on hot summer days in the minor leagues, waiting for one last call to the big leagues.
Millwood pitched seven strong innings on Wednesday, setting the stage for a 2-1 PawSox victory over Lehigh Valley that pulled his team within one game of the International League North Division-leading Ironpigs. The man who pitched in an Atlanta Braves rotation that included Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine has been on bigger stages during his career. But the size of the stage doesn’t matter to the even-keeled North Carolina native. He just wants to pitch every fifth day and keep getting hitters out.
Last week, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, a teammate of Millwood’s in Baltimore during the 2009-2010 seasons, said some nice things about his old friend at the All-Star game. In a story published on WEEI.com, Wieters talked about his mentor.
“He’s one of the smartest pitchers I’ve ever caught,” Wieters said. “If he still has as close to the stuff that he used to have, he’ll be able to pitch at this (MLB) level. I’m surprised he hasn’t been up so far this year because he has that ability, that pitch ability to where when he doesn’t have that A stuff, he can still get you through six, seven innings.”
Millwood, who doesn’t seek out publicity, was pleased to read Wieters’ comments.
“That was very nice to hear,” he said. “Hopefully, I was able to help Matt out when I was there. He’s a fine young player.”
Millwood has had the same impact on his PawSox teammates. Righthander Kyle Weiland and lefty Andrew Miller both learned a lot just by watching Millwood and another PawSox pitching veteran, Brandon Duckworth, go about their business this season. Ironically, both are in Boston now, contributing to the first-place Red Sox during the heat of a big league pennant race.
Millwood, who is 6-1 at the Triple-A level this season, is 5-0 in 10 starts for the PawSox.
“He only had one bad outing for us,” PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler admitted after Wednesday’s game had ended. “Kevin knows how to pitch. He has been good in our clubhouse. He’s a pro who has helped our other pitchers, like Weiland, out. We’ve had three or four veterans on our staff this season who have been leading our young pitchers around.”
Millwood is in Pawtucket because he got bogged down with a last-place Orioles team in 2010, finishing with a 4-16 record and a 5.10 ERA.
“Kevin had some bad breaks early,” Wieters told WEEI.com. “There were games where he gave us a chance and we were in it, we just couldn’t get enough runs for him at the beginning of the year.”
Millwood owned an 0-4 record despite a solid 3.89 ERA at the end of May in 2010. He was released after the season ended. It took his agent until late March to get Millwood signed to an opt-out contract with the New York Yankees, who earlier had signed veterans Bartolo Colon, 38, and Freddy Garcia, 35. Those two old pros had a full spring training with the Yankees and became effective members of New York’s starting rotation.
Timing is everything. If Millwood had signed with the Yankees two months earlier, he might have beat Garcia or Colon out for a job. Instead, he went to extended spring training in Tampa when the Yankees went north to open the season.
Millwood made three starts with New York’s farm teams in Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before opting out in early May and signing with Boston. Since then, the Red Sox have effectively filled holes in their injury-riddled rotation with Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller, Kyle Weiland and Alfredo Aceves.
The success of Andrew Miller, in particular, has negated any need for Millwood in Boston. The veteran understands the process.
“I just have to wait and see what happens,” he said when asked about the upcoming July 31 trade deadline, a period of heavy roster activity in the big leagues. “I’m just going to keep on pitching and doing the best I can to help this team win games.”
If the phone call never comes, Kevin Millwood will go home to Georgia and spend more time with his two young sons, just as he did during the recent All-Star break. At some point, he will reflect on a big league career that includes 17 wins for the National League East champion Braves in 1998, and 18 more in his best season of 1999 when compiled a 2.68 earned run average, struck out 205 batters, and allowed less than one baserunner (0.996) per inning. He finished third in the Cy Young voting and made the All-Star team. He also pitched in the World Series for the only time in his career.
Traded to Philadelphia after the 2002 season, Millwood threw a no-hitter for the Phillies on April 27, 2003. He signed a five-year contract worth $60M with Texas in 2006, setting him up for life. Over the years, he won 159 big league games and lost 137.
And now, at age 36, the 11th-round draft pick of Atlanta in 1993 keeps answering the call in Pawtucket every fifth day, taking the ball and throwing six or seven innings, mixing his fastball, slider, curveball and changeup, finding which pitches are effective each day, and which aren’t, showing teammates and opponents alike what Matt Wieters was talking about last week at the All-Star break.
Kevin Millwood still knows how to get hitters out.