Although this season hasn't been a total disaster for starting pitcher Tommy Milone, the left-hander will admit he hasn't been as effective as in his first year with Oakland.
After an August 3rd demotion to Triple-A Sacramento, Milone is getting the opportunity to work through those issues in a less stressful environment. He's set to make his second start as a member of the River Cats' rotation Tuesday night at Iowa.
A steady force in the Oakland A's rotation for all of 2012, when he won 13 games and posted a 3.74 ERA in 190 innings, Milone has struggled this season with his command and throwing more pitches up in the 'zone. While he has sometimes gotten away with pitching that way in the spacious O.Co Coliseum, it has led to some short outings on the road as evidenced by his 5.00 ERA in 12 road starts.
"I can't pinpoint a specific thing," said Milone, comparing his 2013 and 2012 seasons. "Just being able to throw quality strikes [has been the biggest thing], I guess. It's not just one pitch or a specific location. It's just I have to throw good pitches with every pitch I have.
"Sometimes I get the change-up up, which is my best pitch. I need to throw that pitch in a good spot, because I'm going to get some swings on it. It's not a pitch I'm trying to strike people out with, but instead trying to get bad contact."
Before being sent down, Milone posted a 4.39 ERA and 9-9 record in 22 starts. Home runs and walks have become bigger problems for the southpaw, as he's allowed 1.5 long balls (up from 1.1 in 2012) and 2.2 free passes (up from 1.7) per nine innings.
Finding more command of all of his pitches is Milone's biggest focus in Triple-A.
"I've always felt like my fastball has been the pitch I could command in and out," Milone said. "At times, you're not going to have your stuff. It's a matter of commanding my fastball early on and going to my off-speed pitches and throwing them for strikes, but also for quality strikes.
"You can't leave the ball up and expect to get results and get outs. You've got to make good pitches. For the most part, I wasn't doing that with Oakland. The main thing I need to down here is keep the ball down and work on some key location spots with some pitches."
Milone made his first Triple-A start in the Oakland organization on August 8th at Omaha, and he faced some of the same adversity that had plagued him in the big leagues.
The USC alum allowed two earned runs on eight hits in five innings, striking out seven and walking one. The nine base runners allowed in five innings gave Milone plenty of opportunities to execute his pitches with men on base.
"I felt like I threw some good pitches and some bad pitches that were up," Milone said. "All but one inning, there was somebody on base. In that aspect, it was good because I was forced to throw good pitches and get out of situations.
"Sometimes those are things that make you the most confident – getting out of situations like that rather than going 1-2-3 every time. It's good to practice that down here, rather than up there."
Once thought to only be a temporary demotion while the A's went with a four-man rotation, Milone's stay at Sacramento could be a bit longer with the successful starting debut of rookie right-hander Sonny Gray. Oakland's former first-round pick out of Vanderbilt appears to have earned a longer look in the rotation after pitching six innings at Toronto on Saturday and allowing four runs (two earned) on four hits.
Being assigned to a team battling for a Pacific Coast League division title, Milone is still throwing meaningful innings during the stretch run, albeit at the Triple-A level.
Sacramento manager Steve Scarsone was happy to get a boost to his rotation, no matter for how long.
"He knew it was going to be a short time here," Scarsone said. "Tommy is pretty realistic and knows he's going to have a couple starts here and he'll go back up and fit right back in up there. He has a chance to refine some things that were maybe getting out of hand up there.
"He wasn't doing anything terrible, but now he can come down here and have some outings to where you're not scrutinized as much. We're looking to get his confidence going."
Whatever happens with the big club, Milone will make sure he's ready to be the next man in when the time comes.
"They haven't told me anything about when," he said. "They want me to be ready in case something happens. Their pitching is doing well right now, so I'll put in my work down here. I've probably watched every game since I came down. I feel just as tied to them as ever. Hopefully sometime soon I'll be back up there and hit the ground running."