Milledge showing on-field maturity

When the Pirates acquired Lastings Milledge last June, most of the trepidation expressed by fans and members of the media focused on his poor off-the-field reputation. This was particularly concerning to some because he was traded for Nyjer Morgan, who was known to have a very positive impact in the locker room. Personally, I felt that many of Milledge’s issues had probably been exaggerated to some degree. I was chiefly worried about baseball-related issues, namely his poor defense and free-swinging ways at the plate.

Milledge was a model citizen after the trade last year and he has taken that to new heights in 2010. His hustle on the field has been borderline ridiculous, including all-out sprints on routine pop-ups. All reports indicate that he has attacked every day at the park with extreme enthusiasm. That sort of passion can be very valuable in a sport like football, but it can be detrimental in the game of baseball. While it is obviously beneficial to play with passion, it is also important to stay under control. And that brings me to my main point.

On Friday night, Milledge gave the Bucs the win with a ninth inning RBI single. On Saturday night, he was presented with the same opportunity. With closer Francisco Cordero struggling with his control, Milledge came to the plate in the ninth with the bases loaded, two outs and the Pirates trailing by one run. He worked the count to 2-2, including two pitches that were just off the outside corner. He watched another fastball soar low and emphatically pumped his fist as he stepped out of the box. From my seat in section 214, I could almost see the adrenaline pumping through Milledge’s veins. The park was electric, as the fans rose to their feet for the payoff pitch. It was an exhilarating moment.

In his young career, Milledge has swung at more than 30% of pitches outside the strike zone. In other words, he is not known for his patience. Combining a pumped-up Milledge with this particular situation (tying run on third, winning run on second and the crowd buzzing) seemed to be the perfect recipe for an overanxious swing at a pitch out of the zone. I was a bit concerned as Milledge stepped back into the box. Suddenly, he asked for time and stepped out. Milledge walked slowly away from the plate and took several deep breaths. Then he stepped back in and watched a slider zip just below the knees for ball four, tying the game.

I was reminded of an old interview with former Pirates closer Jim Gott, regarding a game against the Mets in June 1988. The Pirates led 8-7 in the ninth, and Gott retired the first two batters he faced. Three Rivers Stadium was rocking as Gott jumped in front of Howard Johnson, 1-2. When catcher Mike LaValliere called for a fastball on the next pitch, Gott asked for time and summoned LaValliere to the mound. Gott wanted to go with a slider, and he stepped back to the rubber feeling comfortable that he and his catcher were on the same page. But LaValliere again called for the fastball. Instead of stepping off again, Gott went with the fastball grip and “threw an unconscious pitch.” Johnson lifted it over the right field wall to tie the game, and the Mets would win in extra innings. In the interview, Gott regretted letting himself become caught up in the moment, and used it as a reminder that he needs to throw every pitch with a purpose.

On Saturday, Milledge easily could have lost his focus in the intense atmosphere at PNC Park. Instead, he delivered a terrific at-bat in a high leverage situation, and the Pirates won the game because of it. As I mentioned earlier, Milledge has swung at more than 30% of pitches out of the strike zone in his career. So far this season, that is down to about 26%. That is right around league average, which is very encouraging. Let’s hope that trend continues throughout the season.

Seriously, how pretty is this MLB Gameday screenshot from Milledge’s at-bat on Saturday? Think about the fact that he laid off pitches one and three, and try not to smile.

Milledge - 4.17.2010

Enjoy this story? Pirates Prospects will be switching to a subscription site on 4/13, so that we can continue bringing you the best Pirates coverage there is. For a very small monthly price, you can continue getting articles like this, along with coverage from every minor league city. Get more information here, and subscribe today!

Share This Article

Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.

Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Watch 4/18/10

Next Story »

Starters Struggle for Power and Curve

Latest Analysis

  • Josh Bell made the move to first base over the off-season. (Photo credit: David Hague)

    Why Should You Care About Prospects?

    7 hours ago

    Yesterday I had a shorter day than usual. The Pirates had cuts at the MLB level, and a road game. The day was shortened at Pirate City, ...

    Read More
  • Gregory Polanco

    Q&A: Trading Prospects For Rentals, Polanco Concerns, Meadows vs Appel

    1 day ago

    I missed the Q&A last week due to a common problem in Spring Training: I forgot what day it was. It was around 6:00 that I was ...

    Read More
  • Nick Kingham f

    Improving His Two-Seam Fastball will Make Nick Kingham a More Effective Pitcher

    2 days ago

    With Jameson Taillon returning from Tommy John surgery, and unlikely to make an impact at the Major League level early in the year, the top prospect to ...

    Read More
  • Arquimedes Caminero 3

    The Roster Situations That Could Impact the Makeup of the Pirates Bullpen

    4 days ago

    There are less than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, and the one area where the Pittsburgh Pirates had actual position battles is heating up. There were ...

    Read More
  • Jordan Luplow

    How the Pirates are Trying to Stay Ahead of the Curve With the New Draft Rules

    5 days ago

    The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement brought a lot of changes to Major League Baseball. The biggest change for the Pittsburgh Pirates came in the draft. From 2008-2011, ...

    Read More
  • Alen Hanson

    The Key For Alen Hanson to Help the Pirates in the Majors This Year

    6 days ago

    When the Pittsburgh Pirates moved Alen Hanson to second base last year, part of the plan was to get him to the majors faster by putting him at ...

    Read More
  • Tyler Glasnow 2

    What the Stats Don’t Tell You About Tyler Glasnow

    1 week ago

    The stat line for Tyler Glasnow’s start at Pirate City yesterday looked great: 3 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K. The lone run ...

    Read More
  • JaCoby Jones Josh Bell

    JaCoby Jones Did Fine in the Move to Shortstop, But Needs to Cut Down on Strikeouts

    1 week ago

    The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted JaCoby Jones as an outfielder in the third round of the 2013 draft, then surprised everyone the following year when they moved him ...

    Read More
  • Cody Dickson is a lefty with the upside of a middle of the rotation starter. (Photo Credit: Mark Olson)

    The Mental Adjustment that Led to Cody Dickson’s Dominant 2014 Second Half

    1 week ago

    Trusting his stuff and not trying to do too much — that has been the key for left-handed pitcher Cody Dickson so far in his professional baseball ...

    Read More
  • Third Base Mathisen Luplow Joe

    Who’s on Third? In the Pirates’ Farm System, It Could Be Anyone

    2 weeks ago

    If you have ever played third base in your life — professional, college, high school, slow pitch softball — then the Pittsburgh Pirates might be contacting you ...

    Read More
  • Browse More Articles