PEORIA, Ariz. – Kevin Millwood said he’s had no choice but to adapt to the inevitable march of time.
“When I was younger, I was like all these other young kids, throwing low-to mid-90s,” said Millwood, a 37-year-old veteran of 14 major league seasons. “But now for me it’s more about moving the ball around and changing speeds and hitting my spots.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge, though, says he still sees pretty much the same pitcher he managed in 2005, when Millwood led the American League with a 2.86 earned-run average for Cleveland.
“The bottom line is that he makes pitches and he knows how to pitch and he controls situations and he controls damage,” Wedge said.
Millwood displayed that ability again Wednesday when he coaxed two double-play grounders out of the Royals to end scoring threats, pitching four scoreless innings as the Mariners beat Kansas City 6-2.
“He’s always had a unique ability to slow the game down when it gets a little bit thick out there and just really have a purpose with each pitch,” Wedge said. “And I think you saw that last night.”
In the process, he took another step toward making the Mariners’ roster.
Millwood, 163-140 since he came up with the Braves in 1997, signed with the Mariners in January as a minor league free agent. He’s guaranteed $1 million if he makes the roster, but can opt out of his contract to pursue other options if he is not on the major league roster when the Mariners leave for Japan on March 22.
Wedge said some cuts - and some clarity to the roster - could take place over the weekend.
Millwood says he’s not worried about what may come, he’s just happy to have another training camp.
“I thought I was done last year before I went to Colorado,” he said of a season in which he was with the Yankees’ and Red Sox’s minor-league systems. But he got another chance at the majors with the Rockies, and went 4-3 in nine starts. That convinced him he still had some life in his well-traveled arm.
“I’ll do it as long as I feel like I can compete at a high level,” he said.
Millwood said he had a few other offers (apparently also including the Rockies) but chose Seattle, in part due to his relationship with Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis from their time in Cleveland.
Wedge has often cited the value he says Millwood would bring to the clubhouse in helping mentor some of the team’s many young pitchers.
“I don’t try to foresee the future, but if I am here, that will definitely be part of my role,” Millwood said.
The reality, though, is that he needs to show he can still get batters out to earn that role.
On Wednesday, he walked three batters in the first two innings, but made a midgame adjustment and faced the minimum number of hitters in the final two innings.
Millwood’s fastball topped out at about 89 mph.
“That’s pretty good,” Millwood joked later.
He said a refined changeup is one of the pitches he has added to adjust.
“If I’d had that before, it would have made life a lot easier,” he said.
For now, he’s hoping it breathes life into his baseball career.