Appreciating Kevin Millwood’s career

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It’s a trivia question that would have stumped most: who is the active leader in strikeouts among right-handed pitchers?

Until this morning, the answer was Kevin Millwood, at 2,083. Now it’s Roy Halladay, just 17 behind at 2,066, after Millwood announced his retirement.

An 11th-round pick by the Braves in 1993, Millwood opened his career in outstanding fashion, going 17-8 and 18-7 in his first two full seasons. He may have won the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year award, except he threw 1 1/3 too many innings in 1997. In 1999, he made the All-Star team, finished second to Randy Johnson in the NL in ERA and led the league in WHIP.

As it turned out, that was Millwood’s only All-Star team. He was 40-20 after his first 2 1/3 seasons. Afterwards, he was 129-132.

Following a 2002 season in which he went 18-8 with a 3.24 ERA, Millwood was involved in a controversial trade. The Braves, looking to cut payroll, shipped him to Philadelphia for middling catcher Johnny Estrada.

The deal didn’t really work out as hoped for either team. Estrada missed most of the 2003 season and then came back and had one fine year for the Braves in 2004. Millwood went 23-18 with a 4.34 ERA while earning $20 million in his two years with the Phillies. The team had no interest in bringing him back for the 2005 season.

With his stock down, Millwood signed a one-year deal with the Indians in free agency and then went 9-11 with an AL-best 2.86 ERA in 2005. He parlayed that campaign into a five-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers.

Millwood was a modest disappointment in Texas. After going 16-12 in a solid first season, he went 19-24 with ERAs over 5.00 each of the following two years. He bounced back with a nice 2009, going 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA, but the Rangers paid the Orioles to take him that winter.

Doomed in Baltimore, Millwood went 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA in his lone year in the AL East. Even though his numbers outside Camden Yards weren’t bad, no one wanted him afterwards. He finally got another chance with the Rockies towards the end of 2011 and went 4-3 with a 3.98 ERA in nine starts. The Mariners signed him last year, and he went 6-12 with a 4.25 ERA in 28 starts last season.

It’s hardly fair to label Millwood’s career a disappointment, but more was expected after his big start. His teams were often disappointments, and he never went to the postseason again after the Braves traded him (he was 3-3 with a 3.92 ERA in seven starts and two relief appearances with Atlanta).

Still, while Millwood wasn’t often great after the big start, he was never bad. He ended up with a first, a second and an eighth place finish in ERA. He won at least 16 games a total of four times. He led the NL in shutouts in 2003. He even had a couple of nice highlights in his final season with the Mariners. On May 18, he became just the 10th visiting pitcher to throw a shutout at Coors Field, pitching a two-hitter against the Rockies. Just three weeks later on June 8, he was involved in one of the most unusual no-hitters in history, throwing six innings before leaving due to injury and then watching as five relievers finished it off for him.

So, no, Millwood won’t be getting any Hall of Fame votes when the time comes. But 169-152 isn’t bad. Millwood is 188th all-time in wins and 59th in strikeouts. And given that he made about $90 million over the course of his career, he should have a lot of fun in retirement.

Clayton Kershaw might return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week

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Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is nearing his return to the mound, according to club manager Dave Roberts. Both Kershaw (left biceps tendinitis) and fellow lefty Rich Hill (left middle finger blister) are scheduled to toss simulated games on Saturday; depending on the outcome, Roberts says Kershaw could forgo a minor league assignment and slot back into the rotation by Thursday.

Kershaw, 30, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis as the team closed out their Mexico Series at the start of the month. He has not made a start in several weeks, but was finally able to resume throwing on Sunday and managed to get through two successful bullpen sessions. Though Dodgers’ ace hasn’t been completely injury-free over his 11-year career in the majors, this is the first significant issue he’s had with his pitching arm so far. The team is expected to take every precaution with the lefty, and will likely limit him to just four innings during Saturday’s simulated game.

Prior to his injury, Kershaw was working on another dominant run with the club, sporting a 2.86 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through his first 44 innings of the season. While Kershaw, Hill and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu served their respective terms on the disabled list this month, the Dodgers utilized a combination of relievers Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, both of whom impressed during their limited time in the rotation.