Twins’ Milone relieved after considerable health scare

After a brief but considerable offseason health concern, Twins pitcher Tommy Milone can focus on spring training. Good thing, too, because there's essentially one spot in the Twins' rotation left to fill.

Jim Mone/Jim Mone/Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — As he struggled down the stretch after being traded to Minnesota last season, Tommy Milone would often feel a shot of discomfort in the back of his neck.

The left-handed hurler from California had noticed it all summer, but it was never enough to keep him off the mound. It didn’t prohibit him from producing with the A’s, either, before they dealt him to the Twins at last year’s trade deadline.

Toward the end of the season, Milone received a cortisone shot in hopes of dulling the pain under his skull. He got another after a lackluster finish in Minnesota that saw him post a 7.06 ERA in five starts.

"It didn’t do anything," Milone said Saturday at TwinsFest.

So late last year, he went and saw a specialist in Beverly Hills. The diagnosis: an Osteoid Osteoma, about 2-3 millimeters in length.

That’s medicalese for a benign tumor.

"It’s not anything anybody would’ve expected," Milone said. "I didn’t expect that. I thought it was just something, maybe like a pinched nerve or something in there that’s causing pain."

A quick and easy outpatient procedure Dec. 4 allowed for the tiny, non-malignant mass’ removal. By Dec. 20, he was able to start throwing again.

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After that brief but considerable scare, Milone can focus on spring training. Good thing, too, because there’s essentially one spot in the Twins’ rotation for which he and a few other candidates will be vying in Fort Myers.

Pain free and on track with his offseason workout regimen, the 27-year-old says he’s ready.

"I can’t just expect myself to just . . . lie down and win a spot," Milone said. "You’ve got to go out there, you’ve got to compete. There’s going to be a lot of guys competing for that spot."

He’d become a mainstay in the A’s rotation the past two-plus seasons following an offseason trade from Washington. In 73 starts from 2012-14, he had a 3.84 ERA and went 31-22.

But Milone struggled mightily once he came to Minnesota. The pain in his neck was its worst in September, but that wasn’t the only factor.

New team. New town. No command. No excuses, either, though, Milone says.

"Coming over here, I think it was just the (multitude) of different things: trying to do too much, come to a new team, try to be the guy I know I can be and I know they want me to be," said Milone, whom the Nationals drafted in the 10th round of the 2008 amateur draft. "I might’ve put a little bit of added pressure on myself.

"I want to be the guy that (fans) want me to be, and I want to be the guy that I want myself to be, who I know that I am. I think it’s good to kind of turn the corner. The neck’s not an issue anymore. It’s a new year, new season."

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