Tommy Milone is, at least according to All-Star voters, one of the best pitchers at Triple-A this season. And for the 24-year-old, being selected for the midsummer classic is a sign he's that much closer to finishing his mission.
"I gave myself a goal to be in Washington by the end of the year," said Milone, who will travel to Salt Lake this weekend to pitch in the Triple-A All-Star Game. "Obviously, you want to be at the highest level, and I see that goal and I feel like that's definitely possible, it's not too far out of reach."
Milone (7-5) held Pawtucket to a pair of hits over seven innings in Syracuse's 8-2 win Thursday at Alliance Bank Stadium. He struck out six.
"If they want to call me now, I feel like I'm ready," he said. "So it's a matter of time, whenever they think I'm ready."
Amidst all the high-profile names in the Nationals' farm system, Milone has quietly worked his way up to be one of the elite lefties in the Minors. A humble starter with increasing confidence, Milone leads the International League in strikeouts with 107.
"I really don't consider myself a big strikeout guy, though," he said. "I feel like I do as much as I can to keep the hitters off-balance and I take pride in not walking guys, so I throw as many strikes as possible."
The USC product was named the Nationals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010 after going 12-5 with 155 strikeouts and a 2.85 ERA at Double-A Harrisburg. He's adjusted well since moving up to Triple-A, where he's allowed just one earned run in his last 21 1/3 innings. His eight shutout frames against Rochester on June 27 helped earn him IL Pitcher of the Week honors last week.
Does he get better with the heat of summer?
"Yeah definitely, I think my previous last two years I felt, once I hit July, something clicked," he said. "I felt good all season. But it's like the more I throw, the better I get and the more I learn about myself and hitters. The more we face the same teams, I can kinda get a sense of how they are."
On Thursday, Milone was again in cruise control, taking a no-hit bid into the fourth until Ryan Lavarnway's two-out single that inning broke it up. Ronald Bermudez singled in the fifth, but Milone worked around that and a pair of walks before coming out after his 84th pitch.
Milone, who threw 51 strikes, lowered his ERA to 3.15. ASU product Zech Zinicola pitched the eighth, allowing two runs, before Josh Wilkie worked a perfect ninth.
"I'm extremely happy. Any time I can keep our team in the game, it's a good day," Milone said. "I felt like everything was working well, I was throwing everything for strikes, and in the end, the 'W' is always a good day."
Milone got an early lead when Michael Aubrey hit his 10th homer in the first off veteran Brandon Duckworth (4-6). The Chiefs added four more runs in the fourth when Seth Bynum hit an RBI single and Aubrey smacked a bases-loaded double to right.
Chris Marrero hit an RBI double in the seventh and Ryan Khoury and Ryan Lavarnway had consecutive run-scoring hits in the eighth.
Milone held the Red Sox hitless through the first few innings thanks to his fastball, he said. Later in the game, the Sox hitters were guessing on what was coming.
"I think the first time through, I was relying on the fastball to get ahead," he said. "But the second and third time, I was going more with the off-speed stuff and change-ups and trying to get the hitters off-balance.
"I think the majority of the grounders I got were with the change-up, shading away from right-handers," he added. "They were pounding them into the ground."
As for his next appearance, Milone said he's honored to put on the All-Star jersey.
"You always get excited for getting acknowledged like that, the All-Star team selection is awesome," he said. "I've very privileged to go there and play and be on the same team with the greats and guys who've been in the big leagues, guys who are on the verge of getting there.
"To go in there and play with some of these guys, it's an opportunity to be seen. You want to to play with the greatest, and that's what these All-Star teams are."