After giving away Tuesday night’s game against the last place Erie SeaWolves, the Senators found themselves tied with the Akron Aeros and two games behind the Bowie Baysox for the last playoff spot in the EL’s Western Division. With only 21 games remaining in the regular season, they desperately needed to rebound with a victory on Wednesday night to regain their second-half momentum. Harrisburg turned to starter Tom Milone for his spot in the rotation and he didn’t disappoint as he threw 6.2 innings allowing only 1 run while striking out a season-high 13 in the Sens much needed 10-1 victory. But if you’ve paid attention at all this year, Milone’s performance shouldn’t come as a surprise as he has been a fierce competitor keeping Harrisburg in every game he takes the mound.
Milone had a solid but unspectacular collegiate career at USC before being drafted in the 10th round by the Nationals in the 2008 draft. In today’s world of scouting and drafting for young arms that can throw near 100 mph, Milone and his high-80s fastball often get overlooked and underappreciated. He has command of all his pitches and an approach more suited to a 35-year old grizzled veteran than the 23-year old minor leaguer he is. Think more Eddie Harris, than Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn in Major League. Instead of a thrower, he is already a pitcher in the vein of a Tom Glavine or Mark Buehrle.
The Nationals organization’s philosophy to pitch to contact is a match made in heaven for the crafty lefty who likes to get ahead in the count and then expand the strike zone. Milone has always been a pitcher with pinpoint control (he only walked three batters his entire senior year in high school), but while at Potomac last year he added a cutter to his already deadly changeup and that has made a huge difference in Harrisburg. Where are those same scouts that rely solely on radar guns now that he is leading the Eastern League in strikeouts and averaging almost a K per inning?
Through 24 starts, Milone is now 10-5 and has only allowed 5 earned runs twice so far. He has compiled 13 quality starts on the season and that number would be higher if he had gone deeper into the game on a number of occasions. But when the Senators needed him most over the last month and a half, he has asserted himself as the clear ace of the staff. Over his last 8 starts, Milone has been both reliable and dominant. He has thrown 52 innings and surrendered a measly 12 earned runs while failing to work into the 6th inning only once. He has only walked 2 batters (that’s right, I said 2) while striking out 67 in that same timeframe which accounts for five of his six highest strikeout totals on the year.
With every game meaning so much to the Senators’ playoff chances, there’s no guy on this staff I would want to have the ball more than Milone and he showed why on Wednesday night. Next year, he’ll probably find himself in Syracuse playing for the Triple-A Chiefs waiting for a phone call from the big club. But for Harrisburg, he only has four more regular season starts left in a Senators’ jersey and hopefully the club’s first Eastern League playoff appearance since 2002.
Banking on 300,000
Last Thursday’s rain-out against the Binghamton Mets was more than just the first home game the Senators lost this year to inclement weather. Its subsequent rescheduling as part of the last series of the year in Binghamton reduced the number of Senators’ home games to 70 and ended the realistic hope of pulling in over 300,000 spectators at Metro Bank Park this season. But short of a hurricaine or flood hitting the Central PA area next week during the team’s final 7-game homestand, the Senators will easily surpass and set their single-season attendance record. So far 256,480 spectators have flocked to games and only need a little over 23,000 more to make this a historical season on City Island.