Cincinnati starter Eric Milton was one of the biggest disappointments in baseball last season, but he looked like a different pitcher in his first start this year.
Milton will look to turn in another strong outing when the Reds wrap up their three-game series with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Milton signed a three-year, $25.5 million deal with Cincinnati before last season, but ended up going 8-15 with a 6.47 ERA. The 30-year-old left-hander allowed a league-high 141 runs and a major league-worst 40 homers.
However, Milton pitched well in his first start of this season, giving up two runs and six hits in seven innings of Friday’s 7-6 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“It’s what I’ve been my whole career, with the exception of last year,” said Milton, who picked up his 1,000th career strikeout. “I just felt like myself again. I couldn’t explain last year. I just worked hard in the offseason, and I’m ready to do it this year.”
Milton went 14-6 for Philadelphia in 2004, but gave up 43 homers. He gave up one home run to Pittsburgh’s Sean Casey on Friday, but the Reds were pleased with his performance.
“He had his rhythm,” shortstop Felipe Lopez said. “You could tell he was really confident. Seeing him like that trickled down to the team.”
Milton is 1-1 with a 6.80 ERA in eight career starts against the Cubs (5-2).
He will square off against Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano, who made his season debut against the Reds on April 3 and allowed five runs, seven hits and five walks in 4 2-3 innings of the Cubs’ 16-7 win. He is 5-3 with a 2.74 ERA in 16 career appearances, including 12 starts, against Cincinnati (5-3).
Zambrano bounced back nicely in his next start, giving up two unearned runs in six innings without earning a decision in the Cubs’ 3-2 win over the Cardinals on Saturday.
The Cubs beat the Reds 4-1 on Wednesday for their fourth win in five games. Catcher Michael Barrett drove in three runs for Chicago, and Ryan Dempster converted his 21st straight save—one shy of the team record set by Joe Borowski.
Right fielder Jacque Jones did not play after straining a hamstring Tuesday and will not return until Friday at the earliest. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez also sat out and is day-to-day after straining his glut muscle Tuesday.
The Reds managed just four hits Wednesday after hitting six homers a day earlier and committed five errors, all of which came by the third inning. Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion was charged with three of the miscues.
“We played about as bad as we could in the first three innings,” manager Jerry Narron said. “You make more errors than you get hits and you still feel like you got a chance to win the game. … But the first three innings made me sick.”
Center fielder Ken Griffey Jr., whose previous six seasons with the Reds have been marred by injuries, left the game in the fourth inning because of stiffness in the back of his right knee. He said the injury is not serious, but wasn’t sure if he would be able to play in the series finale.