This is not the way Tommy Milone envisioned his season winding down.
Just two months ago he was a key member of one of the best young pitching staffs in the Major Leagues, and at 26 he was a left-hander with positive playoff experience and plenty of promise.
The season started out well enough with Milone earning the No. 3 spot in the rotation and winning his first three starts. But then luck started to get rough. Over the course of his next five starts he brought his ERA down from 3.86 to 3.71 but went 0-5. He couldn’t catch a break.
After that, he had patches where he started fighting command of his pitches. He’s a finesse guy, and when the finesse wavers, trouble lies ahead.
By August the A’s shipped him back to the minor leagues, called him up again, then sent him back down. He didn’t come up again until the 25-man roster expanded to 40. That was on Sept. 3. He is nominally in the A’s bullpen, but the fact is he hasn’t pitched since, and no one can say when he might.
“I’m kind of in limbo, but it is what it is,’’ Milone said before Wednesday’s game. “I’m here for the team. I know they want to get me into a game. The opportunities just haven’t been there.’’
At this point, Jarrod Parker, Bartolo Colon, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Sonny Gray are the starters. If one of them gets shelled early, then there would be a chance for Milone to pitch in relief – but most of the three-inning work is going to another former starter, lefty Brett Anderson.
Beyond that, the only chance for Milone to start would be if one of the starters gets hurt, which is not what Milone wants.
“I definitely don’t want something to go wrong for us,’’ Milone said. He pitched six innings in Game 2 of the playoffs against the Tigers last year and allowed one run. Now he doesn’t know if he’d even be on the post-season roster. “It’s bittersweet knowing that the only way I’m going to be in there is for something not good to have happened.’’
So Milone goes through his daily workout preparing to pitch in relief, but also knowing that if fate has it, he’s probably the man the A’s would turn to if a starting pitcher was needed.
When the club sent him to Triple-A Sacramento, it was so that he could work on his command. He did that, but he’s not able to do that now when he’s just throwing on the side. He knows that he’s just one of a number of guys in the bullpen who are looking for any opportunity to get on the mound.
“To really work on my command, I’d have to be out there in a game,’’ he said. “But we’re in a spot where it’s tough to get it. There are so many guys here. We’ll find a way. I’ve just got to be patient.’’