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May 13, 2012 at 3:22 PM

Kevin Millwood made the pitches he needed to make when the game was on-the-line

Prior to his team winning today’s series finale over the New York Yankees, manager Eric Wedge stood in the dugout and discussed his latest lineup decision. He was going with Casper Wells at the No. 2 spot in the order when he could have put Brendan Ryan or Chone Figgins back in here.
To hear Wedge tell it, that did’t leave him much choice.
“It’s a product of our guys,” Wedge said. “We don’t have any veteran guys doing anything. It’s as simple as that.”
“The young guys are going to have to do it because the veteran guys aren’t getting it done,” Wedge added. “You look at all the other major league teams, they’ve got at least one guy, if not two or three, that they can count on that are veteran guys who are experienced big-league hitters. So, our young guys are going to have to step up and do it. And I’ve got no problem saying that.
“And I believe they can,” he added. “It’s just harder without having that guy, or a couple of guys, at this level.”
Well, that’s a pretty huge indictment of the veterans. A deserved one as well.
But one veteran who did indeed step up today was Kevin Millwood.
When he had to, Millwood made his pitches count. And he was able to avoid the big innings that had torpedoed some prior outings.
“It’s kind of what’s been missing the last four or five starts, I guess,” Millwood said. “Being able to make that one pitch and get that ground ball I need.”
He got one from Derek Jeter for a double play to end the third inning with two on. Then another from Jeter for a double-play to end the fifth after New York had loaded the bases with none out, scored a run then still had them full with one down.
And that made all the difference.

When you think of it, there wasn’t much difference between Millwood today and Hector Noesi last night. Millwood allowed seven baserunners over seven innings on three hits and four walks.
Noesi allowed six hits and zero walks.
But Millwood gave up just one run to Noesi’s five because of the quality of pitches made when it mattered.
Noesi wasnt finishing his pitches off. So, when a change-up was thrown on the outside corner to Raul Ibanez last night, the TV angle may have made it look like a good pitch because of its location.
But it was a pitch that just sort of hung there and didn’t finish by tailing off towards the dirt. That lack of finish allowed Ibanez to reach out and poke the ball into the left field corner for a double.
That’s what good MLB hitters do to pitches that are so-so, but aren’t great. You can’t just so-so your way through big innings at this level.
Some other Noesi fastballs were two-seamers that could have dropped a bit more than they did. Instead, they again hung just enough for hitters to get good wood on them.
Location is only part of the pitching story. Pitches have to move the way they are supposed to or it’s a problem. If they lack finish, a pitcher can get hurt.
Millwood finished his pitches off today. That’s why they were pounded into the ground instead of the seats.
He was far from perfect. But he made the big ones when he needed to. Best of all, he gave the Mariners a chance to win. No 4-0 or 5-0 deficits early this time.
It didn’t hurt that Jesus Montero did a better job of catching him. Millwood spoke in person to Montero during the week and the pair also had meetings with pitching coach Carl Willis.
“It was just maybe changing his thinking a little bit,” Millwood said. “I don’t want to stand out on the mound and call pitches. I don’t think I have to do that. And I didn’t. I didn’t call pitches today.”
As far as the young guys went, it was good to see Smoak notch his first extra-base hit since that June 26 homer in Detroit. Smoak had gone 55 at-bats without a home run until he tagged Andy Pettitte in the fourth inning today for a two-run blast.
Pettitte said afterwards that it was just “a horrible pitch” to Smoak, but you have to punish those and the M’s first baseman did.
Wells had a big day, too, after his mother, Daiva, phoned him pregame with a special Mother’s Day request.
“My Mom called me and she said ‘Just hit a homer for me!’,” Wells said.
Then, he quipped to reporters: “Oh yeah, easy request. Easy thing to do, hit a homer at Yankee Stadium.”
It wasn’t easy, but the son delivered.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Jesus Montero


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