Intriguing minor league signings often provide brief interruptions in the dull winter hum, as has-beens or might-bes sign on to join the Washington Nationals in spring training, and therefore take their chance to emerge, or reemerge — or re-reemerge, as the case may be. The Nationals signed one such piece, left-hander Tommy Milone, to a minor league deal Tuesday with an invitation to major league spring training, according to a person familiar with their dealings. Milone has started and pitched in relief in his career and will try to earn a spot with the Nationals, who have openings in both roles.
The Nationals drafted Milone in the 10th round of the 2008 draft, and he made his major league debut for them in September 2011. He pitched to a 3.81 ERA in five games that season before being traded to Oakland as one of several top prospects in the Gio Gonzalez deal. Like fellow tradees Derek Norris, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, Milone was well-regarded as a prospect at the time. Like the rest of that quartet, he experienced sparing success, but never stuck for good.
Milone is now 30 and has pitched 146 big league games with five different major league teams, most recently the New York Mets. All but 20 of his career appearances have come as starts, though Milone’s best chance to make the Nationals could come as a long reliever. As things stand, Cole and Erick Fedde are in the running for the role of fifth starter, though the Nationals could add. But like Jeremy Guthrie and Vance Worley last year, Milone should come into camp with a chance to make the roster in a swing role, and a very outside chance to serve as the fifth starter, should he blow the Nationals away. Milone has a 4.37 ERA and 1.341 WHIP in his career and averages 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
More nonroster invitees will likely come shortly, as the Nationals usually bring in a dozen or so free agent hopefuls annually, hoping one might catch on. Last year, Matt Albers did so. The year before that, Matt Belisle emerged as a key part of the bullpen. Jacob Turner, who signed with the Miami Marlins on Wednesday, made a few appearances for the Nationals after arriving as a nonroster invitee. Milone will likely have to knock out the Nationals to earn a spot, particularly given that General Manager Mike Rizzo has said they are comfortable with their left-handed bullpen depth. But 10 years after the Nationals drafted him, he will get a chance to do that, as he will join them in West Palm Beach in February.
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