Tommy Milone made eleven appearances and five starts for the Mets in 2017, posting an 8.56 ERA, a 7.15 FIP, 12 walks, and 22 Ks in 27 1⁄3 innings pitched, after he was claimed off waivers by New York in early May.
He was granted free agency this past winter, and signed on to return to the Washington Nationals who drafted him in the 10th Round of the ‘08 Draft then traded him after he’d debuted for the Nats in late 2011.
Milone made his first start in a Nationals uniform in six seasons last week in Miami, giving up four hits and three runs in the first before tossing four scoreless innings in what ended up a 10-3 win for Washington.
“He settled down, got strike one, that was the biggest thing, working ahead,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said after that game.
“And his fastball is sneaky, got the ball up there, and he held us close.”
Milone said he was happy to be back in the majors after starting at Triple-A Syracuse to that point.
“It feels good, obviously, especially after that first inning. I told myself I needed to keep my team in the game, and I was able to battle through the last four innings and then eventually the bats came alive and we won it.”
“He got ahead of hitters, which is key for him, and fastball usage,” Martinez said before the start of today’s game, when asked what changed after the first inning for Milone in Miami.
“He doesn’t throw hard, but he uses his fastball really well, in and out, and we told him that. And he settled down. I know the first couple innings he was a little nervous, and once he settled down he pitched really well, and I expect the same thing from him today, just go out there and pitch the way he’s capable of pitching. He’s been pitching good in Triple-A, and he actually pitched well and kept us in the ballgame in Miami, so hopefully he comes out today and does the same thing.”
Wednesday afternoon, in the nation’s capital, Milone retired the first seven batters he faced, and tossed four scoreless on 59 pitches, striking out six.
Jose Reyes got hold of a curve in the top of the fifth and hit a solo home run out to left field to get the Mets on the board, down 3-1 at that point.
Milone retired the next eight batters to get through the seventh inning on 97 pitches before he was done for the day, having picked up nine Ks total, one shy of the lefty’s previous high for a single start.
Tommy Milone’s Line: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 9 Ks, 97 P, 69 S, 5/2 GO/FO.
“He came out early and set the precedent, throwing strikes,” Martinez said after the 5-3 win over the Mets, “getting ahead early in the count and his changeup was really, really good.”
“He’s doing a great job,” Bryce Harper said after going 2 for 4 with a run scored in the win.
“Mixing speeds, 88-91, throwing his changeup, throwing his heater up, top of the zone, and getting some chased balls as well.
“He’s done a great out there the past two starts, and we’ve needed it, so it’s been huge.”
The fact that he is able to throw his fastball (which sits 87-89) up in the zone like he did, for three of his nine Ks, is something that Milone told MASN’s Dan Kolko has been part of what has allowed him to enjoy success at Triple-A and in his first two starts back in the majors.
“Earlier in my career I never really thought about trying to go up in the zone,” Milone said, “... but a couple years ago someone came up to me and told me that, in this day and age with the analytics and everything, my fastball has a very high spin rate, so they were like, ‘Try working up in the zone,’ and I had gotten good results with it and that’s something that I actually started doing when I started pitching with success down in Triple-A this year.
“I started moving the ball up and down rather than just in and out, and I had good success with it, and so I’ve stuck with it and it’s been a good thing for me.”
“The style of pitching that I have I need to command the fastball first and foremost,” Milone said, “... and I was able to do that early on in the game and kind of mix the offspeed pitches off of that a little bit later too.”
Did he ever doubt, when he started to enjoy success with the Nationals’ top affiliate, where he put up a 4.19 ERA, a 3.29 FIP, 24 walks (1.97 BB/9), and 113 Ks (9.27 K/9) in 109 2⁄3 innings, that he could do the same in the majors?
“No, not a doubt in my mind,” Milone said confidently. “I had kind of been dealing with stuff over the past couple years mechanically, and it took a little bit of time to iron those out and I finally figured it out. The first, I’d say, ten games in Triple-A, I wasn’t very good at all, and I just kept going and going until I found it.”
Through two starts at least, whatever changes he’s made have worked, and as Harper said, it’s been a huge boost for the Nationals. In their back-to-back wins over the Mets, the Nats got seven strong from Tanner Roark (4 H, 1 ER), and seven from Milone.
“It’s been awesome,” Martinez said. “When you get seven innings we’ve got a pretty good bullpen to hold us down, so Tanner was awesome yesterday and Tommy today was fabulous, he really was, and to get seven innings out of him today — at one point, I thought, you know, ‘If we get five, great.’ And he looked good, so I said, ‘Hey, you know what, leave him out,’ and we got six, I said, ‘You know what, let him go out there again, and see what happens,’ and he was really good. His pitch count, he got up to 97 pitches, and I thought that was good enough.”