What to do with Kevin Millwood?

D Mag’s Inside Corner has an interesting post today about Millwood:

It’s no longer just about the money with Kevin Millwood.

Allowing Millwood to make another start would almost certainly insure the financially-strapped Rangers would be on the hook for $12 million for his seemingly declining services  2010. The only way it wouldn’t is if Millwood makes another start like the one he did Saturday. And if he makes another start like Saturday, it just might sabotage any remaining chance the Rangers have of reaching the playoffs.

So, yeah, the money is a big deal, but the bigger issue right now is whether keeping Millwood in the rotation is the best option for the team on the field, not the one in the front office.

And you can be sure the Rangers are thinking about the issue long and hard. How can you be sure? Well, consider these events:

On Saturday night, after Millwood lasted just 3.2 innings against the worst offensive team in the AL, I asked Rangers manager Ron Washington if he still had enough confidence in Millwood to make his next start. The tentative date for that start: Friday, the series opener against the Los Angeles Angels.

Washington’s response: “Of course. We’re not going to get to this point in the year and not have confidence in him. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.”

By Sunday, the Rangers were backing away from that.

“For me to definitely say that, I don’t know,” Washington said in an mlb.com story.

Millwood could have work sessions Monday and Wednesday in preparation for the Angels start. Or he could have more work than that if the Rangers decide to push him back farther.

On Saturday, the only thing Washington could really find to use as praise for Millwood was that he didn’t walk guys like he had been. But even that had to be qualified. Millwood didn’t issue a walk in the first three innings, then, after the Rangers rallied for a pair of runs to cut the deficit to 3-2, he walked the first batter of the fourth inning, who just happened to be the .213-hitting Jack Hannahan . He also walked the nearly unwalkable Jose Lopez – on four pitches – to force his exit from the game. In between there were a pair of outs and a pair of hits. And a whole bunch of mediocre fastballs.

According to the MLB.com boxscore, Millwood hit 90 mph with just two of his 69 pitches. Both came in Franklin Gutierrez’s fourth-inning at bat with two outs. The second, Gutierrez ripped for a two-run double. For the most part, though, Millwood’s fastball ranged from 86-88 mph. His changeup sat at 83-84. When your fastball and changeup are bunched that closely in velocity, you aren’t going to fool anybody.  The slider registered 81-83 mph. And so, unless it had David Cone’s sweeping break, batters could look for the fastball and still be able to hit the slider. Millwood had decent success with his curve, which dropped down to the 70-71 mph range. He got a pair of strikeouts on the curve, including one of Ichiro Suzuki. And yet, he threw the curve only five times.

It raises this question: Is he healthy?

Washington said he asked Millwood that and Millwood responded in the affirmative. The media asked Millwood the same question and he responded  that he absolutely physically felt fine.

Except I’m still not sure. Remember the start of the second half of the season? The Rangers gave Millwood, who had spent the first half of the season as their most effective starter, extra rest. He went nine days between his last start of the first half and his first of the second. And in his second start following the break, he left after just two innings with a strained gluteus maximus muscle.

He has not been the same since. Since returning from the glute injury, he’s 1-3 with a 5.97 ERA. The Rangers are 1-6 in his seven starts; they are 18-9 when anybody else pitches. The velocity continues to drop. He looks worn out in the second or third inning almost every time out. Since coming to Texas, he’s now 4-11 with a 5.48 ERA in September. He’s one more poor start from making September the worst month for his ERA during his Texas time (it’s currently 5.61 in May). He’s also probably just one more start from forcing the Rangers to commit to him for $12 million in 2010.

From a business perspective, the choice would be an easy one: Sit him down and avoid saddling the club with a big and unnecessary salary for 2010.

And until a few weeks ago, it would have been seen as nothing more than a penny-pinching gesture from a financially-troubled organization.

But, now, the issue has become more complicated because it might just be in the best interest of the Rangers’ 2009 season.

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One response to “What to do with Kevin Millwood?

  • Kellerite

    Get rid of him. He does this same thing every year. Starts out ok, finishes not so great. I for one did not want to get him in the first place.

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