Kevin Millwoodlikes pickup trucks, country music, fishing and challenging hitters with asteady supply of fastballs. Almost nothing about his manner is oblique,including his answer when asked why, as the American League's 2005 ERA champion(2.86, for the Indians), he would enlist for five years of duty in themilitarized zone that is Ameriquest Field--home to the Rangers and pitchinginfamy. "Only Texas gave me the [contract] length," says Millwood, whoalso drew interest from the Orioles and the Nationals.
Such pragmatismshould serve him well in Ameriquest, where pitchers' dreams--especially thoseof pitchers with National League pedigrees--go to die. Over the past threeseasons only altitude-enhanced Coors Field in Denver has inflated the rate ofruns scored more than Ameriquest.
Since the stadiumopened in 1994, Texas has used 75 starting pitchers. Only two of them--KennyRogers in '95 and 2002 and Ken Hill in '96--were able to keep their ERA under4.00 while throwing 200 innings. The world champion White Sox had four suchmodestly accomplished pitchers last year alone. Thirty of those 75 humbledRangers toiled just in the past three seasons under manager Buck Showalter;none of them impressed enough to make even 10 starts in each of thoseyears.
With that historyin mind owner Tom Hicks and rookie general manager Jon Daniels made certain tobring up the Ameriquest issue with Millwood while courting him as a free agentin December. Millwood explained he was concerned only with pitching well enoughto win, not posting another pretty ERA. Hicks smiled and forked over $60million for five years, clinching the deal by throwing in a round of golf atthe home of the Masters, Augusta National, where he is a member.
"I don'tthink you can set your sights on winning an ERA title there," Millwood, 31,says of Ameriquest. "The bottom line is, the guy I'm pitching against ispitching in the same place under the same conditions. So all I need to do is bea little bit better than the guy I'm pitching against that day."
In addition toMillwood, the Rangers fortified their rotation by trading for Adam Eaton, 28,from the Padres and Vicente Padilla, 28, from the Phillies. Like Millwood, whowas 9-11 with Cleveland in the only AL season of his nine-year career, both arerighthanded pitchers raised in the NL. Texas's sorry history of NL émigrésincludes, of course, Chan Ho Park, who left the Dodgers in January 2002 for afive-year, $65 million contract. Park won 22 games in 3 1/2 years for Texasbefore being traded to the Padres last July.
"Last time Ichecked," Eaton says, "I'm not Chan Ho Park."
With Millwood,Eaton, Padilla and righthander Kameron Loe, 24, entrenched as the top fourstarters, the Rangers at least enjoyed some rare certainty in March about theirrotation. "Last year we had one starter set going into springtraining," says pitching coach Mark Connor. "This year we're lookingfor one. It's a much better feeling."
Still, no one onthe current staff has thrown 200 innings in either of the past two seasons.Texas doesn't need exceptional pitching; even middling innings-eaters arewelcome behind an offense that last season became only the third team, afterthe famed 1927 and '61 Yankees, to outhomer its opponents by more than 100. Butunlike those championship clubs, the Rangers won only 79 times and finished 16games out of first place.
The Texas lineupfigures to be just as potent this season with shortstop Michael Young, 29, theAL batting champion; slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira, 25; andcenterfielder Brad Wilkerson, 28, whose numbers should skyrocket after leavingcavernous RFK Stadium in Washington. Regardless, the Rangers' hopes forcontending will hold up only as well as their pitching, a shaky proposition fora place with such a high attrition rate for hurlers. Millwood, unflinching asever, knows the task begins with him. "It's tough to say one guy is theNumber 1 guy," Millwood says, "but if it takes the pressure off theother guys, then I'm all for it."
Mark Teixeira's 144 RBIs in 2005 were the most ever by a switch hitter,breaking the record of 136 set by Hall of Famer George Davis in 1896. MickeyMantle held the old AL mark of 130.
a modest proposal
The Texas heat may not be what causes Rangers pitchers to wilt. Four times inthe last six seasons Texas has ranked in the bottom five in the majors inDefensive Efficiency (a team stat created by Bill James to measure thefrequency with which balls put into play are converted into outs), including26th last year. The biggest culprit in 2005 was shortstop Michael Young(right), who, according to Baseball Prospectus's Fielding Runs system, cost theRangers 20 runs with his glove. Restoring Young and rookie Ian Kinsler to theirnatural positions, second base and shortstop, respectively, would produceTexas's strongest defensive alignment.
projected roster with 2005 statistics
third in AL West
fourth season with Texas
BRAD WILKERSON[New acquisition]
PVR ¬† 248
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
RH Kevin Millwood [New acquisition]
RH Adam Eaton [New acquisition]
RH Vicente Padilla [New acquisition]
RH Kameron Loe
RH Edinson Volquez (R)
RH Francisco Cordero
RH Akinori Otsuka [New acquisition]
RH Joaquin Benoit
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)
coming to a ballpark near you this summer ...
If Texas doesn't succeed in recruiting Roger Clemens, it will have to settlefor a model Rocket still under construction. Like Clemens, Thomas Diamond, 22,is a big (6'3", 245 pounds) righthanded strikeout pitcher (237 punchouts in1961/3 minor league innings) who throws hard (up to 97 mph). But he hasn'tpitched above Double A. "We could use him as a reliever," Texas G.M.Jon Daniels says, "but we definitely want to develop him as astarter."
HAZARDPAY - Millwood will earn his $60 million at Ameriquest Field--the worst stadiumfor American League pitchers.
JOHN BIEVER (YOUNG)
MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (DIAMOND)