FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Tommy Milone proved with the Oakland Athletics he could succeed as a major league starter, compiling a 31-22 record with a 3.84 ERA between 2012 and 2014.
Now the left-hander is trying to earn a spot in Minnesota’s rotation after a rough start last summer following a trade to the Twins. Milone helped his bid on Wednesday, starting with three scoreless innings in a 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Twins have no other left-handed starters, which could help Milone more.
“I don’t know if being left-handed is an advantage or not,” Milone said. “I feel like as an organization you want the five best guys who are going to make the rotation. So whether it’s me or another righty, it doesn’t matter.”
Twins manager Paul Molitor wasn’t ready this early in March to commit to a fifth starter.
“We’ve got to watch it close,” Molitor said. “Sometimes those things work themselves out through the course of spring training.”
Milone struck out three without a walk in his second outing of the spring. He pitched two scoreless innings in his first start, which was also against Tampa Bay.
He allowed a one-out double in the second inning but retired the next two batters. In the third, he allowed back-to-back hits but again got the next two batters out.
“Obviously you don’t want to be in those situations, but it’s a learning experience in getting through that and got our confidence kind of up,” Milone said.
He was replaced by Trevor May, who struck out the first two batters he faced in the fourth before allowing the tying run in the fifth when Alexi Casilla led off with a triple and scored on Vince Belnome’s double. May struck out two more in the fifth.
The hitting highlight for the Twins was Brian Dozier, who went 3 for 3. Dozier is hitting .625 in spring training.
“He stayed on a couple of pitches back up the middle. Most of his power is pull, but obviously when he uses more of the field especially deeper in the count it’s going to be advantageous for him,” Molitor said. “So that was good to see.”
The Rays took a 3-1 lead in the seventh on a two-run homer by shortstop Hak-Ju Lee off Caleb Thielbar. The Twins got one run back when Chris Hermann led off the bottom of the inning with a home run, but the Rays added two more runs in the ninth on Boog Powell’s single and Richie Shaffer’s double.
Lee also doubled in the game.
The father of Rays reliever Grant Balfour, 62-year-old David Balfour, died Wednesday after a four-year bout with pancreatic cancer. David Balfour played a significant role in the rise of baseball in their native Australia. Grant Balfour has been there the past two weeks to be with him, but manager Kevin Cash said he’s expected to return to the team by Sunday. Cash spoke with him before the game and said he seemed OK.
“Not only is your dad sick and passes, but he’s also organizing a lot of the services. He’s got a ton on his plate,” Cash told reporters. “Hopefully in the back of his mind where it belongs, he’s thinking about getting ready for his season.”
Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi pitched two innings, allowing one run with four hits and two walks. He struck out two.
Odorizzi loaded the bases in the second with none out, but he escaped with only an RBI groundout by Jordan Schafer.
“That was kind of the highlight for me today, was damage control,” Odorizzi said after he left the game.
Twins catcher Josmil Pinto made his spring debut as DH, going 0 for 2 with a walk. He had been sidelined with a right quadriceps strain.
“Got through it cleanly,” Molitor said.
The Rays host Toronto on Thursday, with Alex Cobb set to make his second spring start against Mark Buehrle of the Blue Jays.
The Twins host Miami on Thursday. Pinto will catch for the Twins, and Phil Hughes will start on the mound.
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