February 18, 2006
Milton feels he has a leg up
Troubles date to knee injury
BY JOHN FAY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
SARASOTA, Fla. - Based on his legs, Eric Milton thinks things will be better this year.
Milton's miserable 2005 season, he said, might be traced all the way back to March 2003 when he tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee. After the surgery that followed, Milton wasn't able to do the weight work with his legs that he would have liked to do.
"This is the first offseason since '03 that I've been able to really work my legs," he said. "I added weight. I feel a lot stronger in my lower half. Hopefully, it'll be different."
For the Reds to have any chance to compete in the National League Central, Milton is going to have to be radically different.
He was the poster boy for last year's woes. Signing him for $25.5 million over three years gave a lot of hope to the faithful in Redsland.
But Milton was hopeless from the beginning. By mid-June, he was 3-9 with a 7.20 ERA and the Reds were basically done for the year.
Milton ended up going 8-15 with a 6.47 ERA.
He led the majors in home runs allowed with 40 and led the NL in runs allowed with 141.
He had short stretches when he pitched well, including his last two starts.
He went a total of 14 innings, allowing three runs on 10 hits.
He was successful when he got his legs into his motion.
"I started using my legs," he said. "But now, I feel stronger. I feel like I can go back to what I was used to."
Milton isn't that far removed from success. He went 14-6 with Philadelphia in 2004. His ERA was 4.75, but he allowed only 196 hits and struck out 161 in 201 innings. Milton expects to be that guy again.
"I'm very confident," he said. "I threw off the mound the other day. I felt great. (Catcher Jason LaRue) said I was throwing like I did at the end of the season.
"He said it looked like I had never stopped throwing."
Milton has been driving up from Fort Myers on a regular basis recently to work with pitching coach Vern Ruhle. Ruhle has seen a difference.
"It's early," Ruhle said. "He's still trying to get in shape. But he's trying to get his legs into it more. That's the No. 1 thing. He's feeling better about his legs."
Because of his contract, Milton is assured a spot in the rotation. Again, if he's not better than last year, the Reds won't be much better.
"He's going to be pitching in the middle or the top of our rotation," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "It's a matter of being consistent. He's done it throughout his career."
Ruhle said Milton's work ethic gives him a chance.
"This guy is a total professional," Ruhle said. "Guys do amazing things. Guys come back from adversity. That's what makes our game special.
"Guys come back and have career years. You say, 'How did that happen?' A lot of it starts from within. Anything is possible."
Milton isn't looking for a miracle. He merely wants to be Eric Milton again.
"I don't want to go out and do what I did last year," he said. "That's not me. That's not what I've done throughout my career. I feel like I can do what I did in the past - double-digit wins, 200 innings."