Two nights ago, I asked on Twitter (shameless plug: follow me at Mashmore98) about what the level of interest was amongst Yankees fans in Kevin Millwood’s first Double-A start. Some were very interested. Some were in the middle. And some couldn’t care less.
But someone said the second start was far more important, and that may be turn out to be the best answer. Right?
Millwood isn’t the first “reclamation project” of sorts who has found his way onto the rubber at Waterfront Park, and he surely won’t be the last. Over the past five seasons, Kris Wilson (2006), Victor Zambrano (2008) and Jason Johnson (2009) are the notable pitchers to fill this role in Trenton, rehabs aside.
Only Wilson, who had pitched in parts of four seasons with the Royals from 2000-03, made it back to the big leagues with the Yankees, and that wasn’t exactly a banner stint he had. In five games, including one start, he posted a hearty 2.16 WHIP to go with an 8.64 ERA and 4.3 HR/9 ratio. It would be his last Major League season.
Perhaps his stay in the capital city was a sign of things to come: He went 0-2 in his two starts, with an ERA near ten. He did pitch well in Triple-A Columbus (9-6, 3.40, 21 GP), but that was the last he’d be heard from in the United States; he’s pitched in Korea and Italy since.
Zambrano (left) had spent his previous seven seasons in the big leagues with the Devil Rays, Mets, Orioles and Blue Jays. He had a winning record (45-44) despite a lofty ERA (4.64) while in the show, but essentially pitched his way out of the bigs with a brutal 2007 between Baltimore and Toronto.
He showed up to Trenton late in the 2008 season after having been released by the Colorado Rockies and pitched well, somewhat bizarrely winning Eastern League Pitcher of the Week honors on August 24. In two Trenton starts, he posted no record, but threw up a miniscule 0.75 ERA over 12 innings of work. But he went up to Triple-A and got bombed (8 ER on 11 H in 4 IP) and that was the end of him in the organization.
As for Johnson, he had overcome so much before he even got to Waterfront Park. He signed with the Yankees prior to the 2009 season more for organizational depth, but it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility to think that he could have made the club out of spring training given that he’d spent the past 11 seasons in the big leagues.
But he was diagnosed with retinal cancer, which sidetracked that run. Johnson, who also pitches with diabetes, started the season with Triple-A Scranton, but got shut down due to arm discomfort. That arm discomfort turned out to be a partially torn labrum, but Johnson was sent to Trenton in the hopes that he could pitch through it and return to form.
He couldn’t. Johnson got rocked, allowing six runs on nine hits (including a home run) over five innings during his only home appearance of the season. He made one more appearance for the Thunder, but that went about as poorly. The overall numbers weren’t pretty: 0-2, 14.54 ERA, 8 2/3 IP, 3 HR, 4 BB, 8 K.
He’ll try to re-start his career with the independent Atlantic League’s Camden Riversharks after a year off.
So what will Kevin Millwood bring? Only time will tell. But with the aforementioned three Major League veterans having stuck around for a grand total of six starts, it seems fairly obvious that the Yankees won’t need long to find out.
Factor in his reported May 1 opt-out clause, and that first start may be a little more important than you may think…
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com