The Washington Times - September 3, 2011, 06:09PM

There are certain things about Tom Milone that are known by now. Since it was announced four days ago that Milone, the Nationals 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and a 2011 Triple-A All-Star, would make his major league debut Saturday night against the Mets, his numbers have been written.

It’s known that he’s a crafty lefty, that he doesn’t throw much above 90 mph, he almost never walks anyone, and he’s got phenomenal numbers in the minor leagues that feature 12 wins per season since 2009 and 155 strikeouts in each of the past two seasons (in contrast to 23 walks in Double-A in 2010 and 16 walks this year).


But as Milone becomes the fourth Nationals pick from the 2008 draft to make it to the major leagues (Danny Espinosa (Nationals), Aaron Crow and Louis Coleman (Kansas City Royals)), he does so leaps and bounds from the type of pitcher he was when the Nationals selected him in the 10th round out of USC.

“He didn’t have the pitches that he has now,” Epinosa said, recalling the many times the two faced one another when Espinosa was playing for Long Beach State and Milone was at USC. “He had a sinker and a changeup and a big curveball. He didn’t have a cutter, he didn’t have that backfoot slider — at least not to me.

“In college, for me it was a comfortable at-bat. I didn’t think he would even try to come in on my hands. You can tell now, when he pitches, it’s not a comfortable at-bat for any of those guys. He might show it tonight. In the minors he would break bat after bat after bat. Then he’d get someone trying to cheat on something in and he’d throw them a changeup. The best thing about him is that he just goes after you. He works quick, he goes after you and he’s not afraid of anything.”

The two came out in the same draft class but while Espinosa did not sign until the deadline that August, Milone began pitching almost immediately. He made 10 starts between the New York Penn. League and Single-A Hagerstown. By the time Espinosa and Milone were teammates in Potomac during the 2009 season, Milone had developed his cutter and slider — and was pitching with the confidence of a guy who knew how good they were.

“He’d just attack guys,” Espinosa said. “He would just throw whatever pitch at any time and had confidence in it. Went to Double-A, did the same thing and he dominated even more.”

Milone doesn’t have the type of stuff that draws oohs and ahhs. He doesn’t light up radar guns or blow the ball past hitters with sheer force. But just about anyone who has seen him pitch praises him as an incredibly smart pitcher, a guy who knows what he’s doing on the mound. Jesus Flores, who will catch Milone tonight because of his familiarity with him after catching him for the first half of the season in Triple-A, has seen Milone set up hitters in an at-bat and then, “he can play with them,” Flores said. The numbers don’t lie. In Triple-A this season, Milone struck out 9.69 batters for every walk he issued.

“His pitches look good and before you know it it’s off your hands,” Espinosa said. “It’s a changeup that you can’t touch. He just knows how to pitch. He’s a really smart pitcher. 

“He’s got really good stuff, he’s got really good command and he competes. That’s the biggest thing with him. Even if there was a day when he didn’t have his stuff, maybe, he was still out there competing. You could tell, the way he pitches. He still competed and went after guys. He didn’t back down, he didn’t show frustration to his teammates, he just competed. He controls what he can control.”