OAKLAND – Tommy Milone took the mound with a different attitude Friday night, and not surprisingly, he looked like a different pitcher.
After flirting with disaster and finding it in his previous start at Fenway Park, Milone was as about as good as he’s ever been in an A’s uniform in a 8-0 victory over the Washington Nationals.
He worked both sides of the plate with his fastball. He had his changeup dialed in and got the Nationals to bite at the occasional curve. The lefty gave up just two hits over eight innings, making it look incredibly easy in ringing up his first victory of the season.
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What was so different from his start in Boston, when he walked four and gave up three home runs?
“I think probably just the energy level,” Milone said. “I felt lifted -- just grab the ball, get up on the mound and throw it. Location was a big issue in Boston. I was a little off, trying to come back and throw strikes and leaving it over the plate. Today, from the get-go I was able to paint the corners, work in and out and keep the ball low.”
Was it as simple as a change of venue, leaving the hitter’s haven of Fenway and returning to the pitcher-friendly Coliseum?
It was no coincidence that Milone threw with such authority on the day another starter, Dan Straily, got ticketed for Triple-A. Milone has endured his own rough spots early on this season, to the point that it wasn’t inconceivable that he might be the one sent down.
He wasn’t, and A’s manager Bob Melvin thinks that might have been a load off the lefty’s shoulders.
“I think, to an extent, it might be a vote of confidence for him that he’s here,” Melvin said.
That’s a notion that Milone didn’t disagree with.
“Maybe in a sense (it helped),” he said, “but I didn’t really think about it that way.”
He didn’t expand on his answer, understandably. Say too much on that topic and it makes it seem as if you’re gloating that a teammate got sent down instead of you.
Milone knows what it’s like to be in Straily’s shoes. Last season, Milone posted a 5.54 ERA over a nine-start stretch during the dog days of summer and was optioned to Sacramento himself. He eventually returned to Oakland and split his time between starting and relieving.
Milone wants to get back to the form he showed in 2012, when he went 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA in a team-leading 31 starts.
“It’s just nice to get out there and throw well,” he said. “I did that in 2012, not so much in 2013. But it’s nice to get out there and throw the ball well and put up zeroes.”
If he can do it consistently, or even approach the neighborhood of how good he was Friday, that will be a boost for Oakland’s rotation. Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez have been a very solid front three on the starting staff. If Milone and newly installed starter Drew Pomeranz can deliver consistent, quality starts – along with Straily, who could return at some point – this rotation will hold down the fort despite the season-long absences of right-handers Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin.
Milone also acknowledged it meant a lot for him and his battery mate, catcher Derek Norris, to do well against their former team. Washington traded Milone and Norris to Oakland in a four-player package that netted Gio Gonzalez in a December 2011 trade.
“Half that lineup I knew,” Milone said. “Just to see them again and pitch well against them was a lot of fun.”
He was an inspired pitcher Friday, and he’ll be looking to stay that way no matter who the opponent is.