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Milton mows down Yanks in debut
Southpaw tosses three perfect innings in efficient outing
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies' projected No. 4 starter pitched like an ace Thursday, serving early notice that he's healthy and ready to resume his career.
Working quickly and economically, Eric Milton needed 35 pitches to breeze through nine Yankees, en route to three perfect innings in his first start with the Phillies.
So crisp was Milton that catcher A.J. Hinch dashed toward the dugout after what he thought was a called third strike. Not trying to show up the umpire, Hinch apologized, and Milton induced an inning-ending fly out.
That's what Spring Training is for.
"I almost got (Milton) in trouble on that," said Hinch, with a laugh. "He's got the capability to throw four pitches whenever he wants, and slice through a lineup pretty effectively. He is one of the top lefties you can find for a starting pitcher.
"If you put up a blueprint of size and strength, and composure and things like that, it's him."
Milton, acquired from Minnesota in the offseason, used his entire arsenal against the team which made him a first-round draft choice in 1996. While he didn't tangle with Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter in Thursday's Grapefruit League opener -- the first game played at Bright House Networks Field -- he made quick work of Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and Kenny Lofton.
Following a season in which he was limited to 17 innings because of surgery on his left knee, Milton worked himself in the offseason. He began throwing at the Twins minor league complex near his home in Fort Myers, Fla., on Jan. 2. By the end of the month, he was already throwing off a mound.
The fact that Milton was even throwing in a baseball game in early March was a welcome feeling. The injury, and the surgery that followed, gave him a renewed perspective. After all, Milton was accustomed to logging 200 innings a season.
"It makes you appreciate it more," said Milton. "I took it for granted all those years of pitching 200 innings and making 30 starts. When you're not out there every five days, it wears at you."
There weren't any physical signs of wear on Thursday, as Milton appeared strong. He mixed all four of his pitches effectively -- including throwing all four of them to Giambi in one at-bat. He's not worrying about his knee when he pitches. His workout routine no longer includes running after starts, but he substitutes that by running in a pool.
"I'm prepared," he said. "I've been prepared for a while, came to camp ready, and this is another step."
He passed a mini test in the second inning, when Matsui grounded toward first base and Milton had to race to cover the bag. It took a tricky hop for Jim Thome, who flipped behind Milton, who reached back and made the grab.
Another test of the knee may come at the plate.
"Probably the hardest part will be trying to leg out a double, that's if I ever get the bat on the ball," said Milton, who struck out in his only at-bat, but has six hits in 20 career at-bats. "I got to see some pitches at least. It wasn't pretty."
The Yankees didn't look pretty against Milton, either.
"He looked good," said Thome, who helped out with a home run. "He throws strikes, gets ahead and has great stuff. (In the AL), you knew you had to have your 'A' game to beat him. It's fun having him on my side."
Hinch's memory of Milton goes back a little further -- even before the southpaw tossed a no-hitter in 1999. He caught him in 1996 when both were trying out for Team USA, and faced him a good amount in the American League.
"You get a grasp of what his game is," Hinch said. "He made it look easy today."
Hinch had an added treat when he caught Vicente Padilla, who started and threw a perfect first inning. Calling Padilla's fastball "electric," Hinch was reminded that Padilla and Milton are slated to be the third and fourth members of the starting rotation.
"I know," he said. "This is just the appetizer. It doesn't matter what (manager Larry Bowa) does. There is no one, two or four starter. They are five front-line guys. They are going to feed off each other and complement one another.
"You lick your lips when you get behind the plate to have someone like that to work with."
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