Clearing the bases: Milone, platoon fun

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
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First: One might be the loneliest number and all that, but it was enough on the scoreboard to turn rookie Tommy Milone into an eight-game winner, as he combined with Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook to spin a shutout.

[+] EnlargeTommy Milone
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonTommy Milone pitched 190 innings last season, the most on the A's staff.
Now sure, you can kibitz over it being a shutout of the Mariners, or a shutout thrown in pitcher-friendly Safeco. And maybe that’s because it’s easy to pick on Milone because he’s one from that legion of lefties who "just" throws strikes, changes speeds (averaging just 87 mph in his case), and mixes in the odd curveball. And he’s a fly-ball guy. And in a world full of analysts happily harping on the virtues of power ground-ball pitchers, there’s not going to be a ton of love for a soft-tossing lefty armed with little more than the proverbial guts of a burglar.

But for all that, sometimes it’s worth remembering what a guy does and can do, and not treat player performance with cavalier disdain for less than perfection. Look at what Milone is, and there’s a lot to like: He’s bold when it comes to working inside despite his less-than-overpowering stuff; he attacks weaknesses aggressively, having learned to live low in the zone from three seasons pitching in USC’s rotation in college; and with his Bugs Bunny-like slowball delivery, his low-temp heat plays up.

Most importantly, Milone has given the A’s an innings-eater capable of pitching into the seventh inning or later, having done so in seven of his last nine turns. That’s especially handy in an A’s rotation that has lost Bartolo Colon to a strained oblique and Brandon McCarthy to his latest injury (a shoulder this time, for the second time this year, the fourth season he’s had shoulder woes in his run of seven straight seasons with DL service).

So A’s fans can thank their lucky stars for Tommy Milone, even if he’s “just” a finesse lefty whose FIP bleats regression. He may not reliably dent bread with his fastball, but if you wanted to assemble a list of key features for any pitcher’s success, Milone owns at least two: the ability to throw strikes and health. It’s something lots of teams like to work with.

Second: If you want a line score you won’t see every day, check out Alex Cobb’s eight-inning, eight-run disasterpiece against the Royals, the sort of game you might expect from the sports pages a century older. But the reasoning wasn’t that shabby: The Rays had played a Sunday doubleheader with a pen start led off by Cesar Ramos in the second. He’d thrown just 53 pitches through the first three frames despite being down 6-0, so why tax your ‘pen just then? It’s a losing cause and just one ballgame you can’t lose more than once no matter how bad it gets, so why not see if Cobb can give the relievers some rest? Cobb took a bullet for the team, but that's going to be worth something in the Rays' games to come this week.

Third: With Tuesday marking Anthony Rizzo Day in Wrigleyville, one thing that might have missed your attention unless you’re punishing yourself with Cubs boxscores first thing in the morning is how many platoons, strict or loose, that Dale Sveum’s running these days.

Bryan LaHair’s move out to right field to platoon with Reed Johnson already gave them a second outfield platoon, with David DeJesus moving over to form the lefty half of a center-field platoon with Joe Mather. OK, that’s semi-cool, but it was also semi-cool about the 1987 Cubs, who platooned Jerry Mumphrey and Brian Dayett in left while platooning Dave Martinez and Bob Dernier in center. (This did not lead to bigger and better things for any of them, but it was cool, even as it made for a busy scorecard.)

However, Rizzo is probably looking at the occasional day off against tough lefties so that Jeff Baker can fulfill the lefty-mashing role that has defined his career, so that’s a loose trio of platoons in a single lineup. Heck, maybe Sveum will use Steve Clevenger often enough behind the plate, spotting for Geovany Soto to make it four platoons.

That’s no easy feat in the age of seven-man bullpens. However, that’s Sveum’s bench in a nutshell: Everyone has his uses, even newly-minted fifth outfielder Tony Campana -- as a ready defensive replacement for DeJesus or LaHair.

Bringing it home: Our own Eric Karabell has the tweet of the night, on the subject of forgiveness when it comes to closers after the Marlins’ late-inning loss to the Cardinals …

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