Eric Milton Fits Into A Philadelphia Comfort Zone

After an injury last season, Eric Milton didn't know too much about his future. Now, almost a year after suffering a knee injury, the left-hander comes back to his home state and has a steady job in the Phillies starting rotation. Most pitchers like to think of themselves as the ace of the staff, but for Milton, just being a contributing part of one of the deepest staffs in baseball is enough.

When the Phillies acquired Eric Milton from the Twins, one off-season question seemed to have been addressed, Kevin Millwood would not be back in a Phillies uniform. Surely picking up a hefty six million dollar salary meant there would be very little left in the back account for Millwood, who never seemed to fall in love with the city. Despite agent Scott Boras' attempts at a multi-year deal with other contending teams, Millwood ended up back in Philadelphia after Phillies General Manager Ed Wade wisely offered Millwood arbitration assuring the Phillies would at least get a draft pick if they lost their ace from a year ago. After looking at the moves the Phillies made during the off-season, Millwood signed on a few weeks back giving the Phils two quality starters but at a cost of nearly 16 million dollars.

While some wondered if Milton was going to inherit the ace role that Millwood garnered last season that is no longer a worry and the State College Pa. native can settle into a much more comfortable third or fourth position in the rotation, probably behind Brett Myers. That's probably where he should be.

In a six-year career, all with the Twins, Milton has only had one season with an ERA below 4.00 and that was last season when he started just three games. His career ERA of 4.76 is certainly not eye popping but consider that many of his games were pitched in the hitter friendly Metrodome. Batters hit .413 at the homer dome against Milton but just .217 in road appearances.

That certainly gave the Phillies enough optimism to spend promising reliever Carlos Silva and super utility man Nick Punto to get him. Milton does possess an impressive baseball pedigree. He was drafted in the first round of the 96' draft by the New York Yankees. Less than two years later Milton was part of the deal that sent All-Star second basemen Chuck Knoblauch from the Twins to the Yankees. Remember that Knoblauch was coming off his finest season batting over .350 and stealing over 50 bases. While Milton was advancing quickly through the Yankee farm system, the Bronx Bombers were well stocked with pitching at the major league level and were very happy with their other blue chip lefthander, Andy Petite.

Months after the trade Milton found himself in the big leagues and has never been back to the farm. His first season he pitched in 32 games, starting 28, all for a Twins team that was clearly in a rebuilding mode. A year later, in 1999, he became the fourth pitcher in Twins history to hurl a no-hitter when on Sept. 11 he no hit, no run the Angels while walking just two batters. Two years later he found himself in the All-Star Game, and would end 2001 with a career high 15 wins. Last season he spent much of the year recovering from two knee surgeries on his left MCL. He came back in just enough time to help the Twins make a playoff push starting three games, pitching 17 innings, while allowing only five earned runs. He pitched well enough for the Phillies, among others, to inquire about the lefty's availability. The Twins, I'm sure, were more than eager to drop, what was, one of their heftier contracts.

Milton throws in the mid 90's and at 6'3 will be one of the more intimidating left-handers in the National League this year. He possesses a hard slider that can give fits to righties and a solid curve that can leave many left handed hitters week in the knees. He does have a pengent for leaving balls up in the zone and has consequently become prone to giving up his share of gopher balls. However, while Citizens Bank Park was certainly not designed with pitchers in mind, it is certainly an upgrade over the Metrodome for Milton.

If Milton had inherited the "ace" role, this season might have been a disaster. Without that pressure Milton should excel under the tutelage of Joe Kerrigan who resurrected the careers of left hand pitchers Rheal Cormier and Dan Plesac last season. Expect Milton to win 14-16 games with an ERA between 3.6 and 4.0. With this years bullpen any lead after seven innings would seem to be safe and since Milton has only thrown 10 complete games in his career, he should benefit from the Phillies' much improved firemen. It's taken nearly a decade but Eric Milton is back in Pennsylvania and he finds himself on one of the favorites to win the National League. Only time will tell how he performs in front of the "home town" crowd and how he settles into his new role on the Phillies.

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