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03/16/10 4:30 PM ET

Millwood sees progress in intrasquad start

Relaxed setting furnishes O's righty with chance to tinker

SARASOTA, Fla. -- For Orioles pitcher Kevin Millwood, everything got a little better Tuesday morning.

In his third unofficial Spring Training start, Millwood tossed five innings in an intrasquad game, striking out seven and allowing three runs on four hits with two walks.

"It was coming out of his hand very lively," said catcher Matt Wieters, who caught Millwood for the first time in a game setting Tuesday. "All four of his pitches, at times, were outstanding."

Pitching coach Rick Kranitz, who stayed here to watch Millwood and Jim Johnson before rushing to Fort Myers, Fla., for the Orioles' 1:05 pm ET game against the Twins, said he liked what he saw out of the veteran.

"Every time he goes out there, we're starting to close the gap," Kranitz said. "The circle is getting a little smaller each time to where we need to be. He got a lot out of [Tuesday's start]. We're starting to see some consistency in his release point and good life on his pitches. It's coming around."

Millwood has no qualms admitting he "stinks," as he said, in Spring Training, and, in keeping with that line of thinking, his previous two starts were right on par. After giving up six earned runs in two-thirds of an inning in his debut against the Detroit Tigers, Millwood was lifted with two outs in the third in his second start on Friday, yielding five earned runs on nine hits to the Twins.

On Tuesday, Millwood grinded out 88 pitches (56 for strikes) and sent Kranitz back to his seat in the fifth after telling his pitching coach he wanted to stay on the mound for another batter.

"I just like to get my pitch count up as high as I can when I'm here," Millwood said. "Once the season starts, I don't have to worry about 90 or 100 pitches [and coming] out of the game. Right out of the gate, you're just throwing till you can't throw anymore.

"I like to pitch. I like to be out there. We only get to play once every five days, so I try to make the most of it."

All three of Millwood's runs came in his final frame of work, as the veteran was charged with a walk, a double and a pair of singles while spending the inning trying to tinker with his changeup. After allowing a leadoff single to Orioles Minor Leaguer Danny Figueroa, Millwood retired the next five batters, four of which came via strikeout.

"He was able to work in with all his pitches, and he was able to be very successful with it," Wieters said. "He might have got a little tired as we got around 70 pitches or so, but that's to be expected when you get stretched out for the first time. But I thought it was very good."

Kranitz said Millwood's changeup was the best he's seen it this spring, and he was also pleased with Millwood's breaking ball. The veteran right-hander frequently went to his curveball, freezing four of the hitters -- mostly made up of Baltimore's Double-A and Triple-A clubs -- on a called third strike curve.

"[The curve was] something he was able to throw for a strike, for a put-away pitch, which I was pretty impressed with how that pitch was coming along," Wieters said. "It's definitely something that can be used a lot as the year goes on."

Added Kranitz: "That's nice, because it wasn't very good [Friday]. [Tuesday] he had a much better feel for it, and it was an excellent pitch. And he needs that pitch."

Following Figueroa, Millwood didn't allow another hit until the fifth inning, with his most efficient frame being the 10-pitch fourth. According to a scout's radar gun, Millwood's fastball topped out at 88 mph, not too shabby considering Millwood estimates his midseason heater is anywhere from 88-94.

"If I was up around 88 [mph] today," Millwood said, "I'm pretty happy with that.

"I felt like I was putting the ball where I wanted to, my breaking balls were good. I feel like if I can locate my fastball, everything's going to work off that and it's going to probably be a pretty good day."

Orioles manager Dave Trembley has mentioned previously that part of the reason Millwood made his start in an intrasquad game was to limit the number of times regular-season opponents face him. Millwood pitched against the Twins on Friday, so the Orioles opted to send right-hander David Hernandez to Fort Myers instead.

"It's a big advantage for me," Millwood said. "It's hard to work on things when you're facing Joe Mauer and guys like that. You feel like you're leaving your teammates out there when you're trying to work on things, and you almost feel a little selfish. So to be able to do it this way and not leave those guys out there, it's a lot more comforting."

"I have no problem with our guys throwing in these Minor League games, if they know the right things to work on," Kranitz said. "And [Millwood] obviously does. He's been doing it for years. Shoot, he may do it again next time."

Kranitz said Millwood will likely throw around 90 pitches in his next start, which is considerably more than his rotation mates at this juncture of the spring. The reasoning behind that is Millwood is a notorious innings eater in the regular season, and, according to Kranitz, Millwood believes he picks up things quicker when he throws more.

"He knows what he needs to do to get himself ready," Kranitz said. "If he wants an extra hitter, then he's going to get an extra hitter."

And Kranitz wouldn't mind Millwood's mind-set rubbing off on the other Orioles pitchers.

"You got to love a guy who doesn't want to come out of the game," Kranitz said. "He wants to stay out there and do his job, and that's a great lesson for all these young kids that we have here.

"Just go out there and do your job and just keep going. And don't be satisfied when you get taken out of the game."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.