PEORIA, Ariz. – He was once a young pitcher trying to make the team out of spring training, like Blake Beavan, and now Kevin Millwood is the veteran looking for one more summer.
Spring training likely will break one of their hearts.
“I look at Blake and I as being in two hugely different positions in our careers,” Millwood said of the man who has the locker next to his in the Seattle clubhouse. “ If he doesn’t make it this camp, he’ll have 15 more years to pitch.
“If I don’t make it, I have no idea what there will be out there tomorrow.”
One of them is almost certainly going to open the 2012 season as the fifth starter. The other will go to Tacoma or, in Millwood’s case, the unknown.
The spring stats won’t decide this one.
The rotation starts with Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas, then drops off into uncertainty – Hisashi Iwakuma has never pitched in the majors and Hector Noesi has two major league starts.
If those two make it, which seems likely, Beavan probably doesn’t. Manager Eric Wedge would likely go with the experience of Millwood, who has made 415 career big-league starts and, at age 37, won 163 of those.
Asked about Millwood on Thursday, Wedge answered with respect.
“He makes pitches, he controls damage. He has the ability to slow the game down and have a purpose to each pitch,” Wedge said. “Kevin knows how to pitch.”
Need an example? Try Wednesday night, when Millwood pitched four shutout innings – and got double-play ground balls in three of those innings.
“When I was young, if I walked the leadoff hitter I was likely to try to strike out the side,” Millwood said. “Now? I’m looking for a pitch that has the best chance of getting me two outs with one swing.”
Millwood hasn’t had a strong season since 2009, when he won 13 games for Baltimore. Since then, he went 4-16 with the Orioles in 2010, then 4-3 later last season with Colorado.
“I’ve tried to get back to where I was at the end of last season, when I was pitching well,” Millwood said. “For the most part, I’ve felt good here. The first couple of innings the other night, my mechanics were a bit off.”
What did he do? He adjusted.
“This is a game of adjustments – for hitters and pitchers – and success depends on who adjusts fastest,” Millwood said.
It is also a game that can seem unfair. Millwood knows the decision that will alter his career or Beavan’s might not go the way anyone thinks it should.
“Some decisions in this game are made by factors I don’t know anything about,” Millwood said. “You can’t read too much into any outing, good or bad. You prepare in spring to pitch in the regular season – but that’s a decision that’s not in your control.”
A man who’s first professional season was 1993, when Beavan was 4 years old, Millwood is not quite the elder statesman of the clubhouse.
He comes in each day wearing jeans, a faded T-shirt and flip-flops. Some days he doesn’t get loose as quickly as others, but he has smiled through all of them.
“I’m having a blast, pitching and being around these guys. I’d like it to last all year long,” Millwood said.
“Facing nine of the best hitters in the world on any given day is a rush. There is no higher level of baseball. I don’t get outs the way I once did, but in any walk of life you face having to make adjustments.”
GIANTS WIN, 7-5
Left-handed relievers Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill gave up three runs apiece to lose a lead and the game to the San Francisco Giants, 7-5.
Rookie starter Erasmo Ramirez handed off a 2-1 lead after four innings. The lead was provided by Mike Carp’s two-run home run.
Seattle lost for just the fourth time all spring, held to six hits by Barry Zito and five relievers.
The Mariners beat the White Sox in an 81/2-inning morning ‘‘B’’ game, 4-3. Jeff Marquez went three shutout innings, then Brandon League and Charlie Furbush each worked two innings. Shortstop Brendan Ryan sat out Thursday’s games and will not play today because of a tight quad muscle. He’s expected to play again Saturday. Biggest surprise of Seattle’s ‘‘B’’ game win may have been a solo home run by third baseman Munenori Kawasaki. Asked where he hit, Kawasaki said “left field.” Third base coach Jeff Datz shook his head: “It was right field – toward the line.”
Their final doubleheader of spring has the Mariners playing the Milwaukee Brewers in Tucson today at 1 p.m. and the Oakland Athletics in Phoenix at 7 p.m. Probable starting pitchers: Felix Hernandez vs. Marco Estrada in Tucson, Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Graham Godfrey in the nightcap, which will be broadcast on 710-AM.