PHOENIX -- When A's left-hander Tommy Milone is at his best, he is not a lot of fun to catch, according to catcher Derek Norris.
"To be honest, Tommy's kind of boring -- in a good way, though," Norris said. "You don't have to do anything. You don't have to worry about balls in the dirt. You don't have to worry about balls going over your head. You don't have to worry about left and right. Everything comes in exactly where you put your glove."
In his first season with the A's, and in the major leagues, Milone quickly established himself as the epitome of the "crafty left-hander." He far exceeded expectations as one of the supplementary players acquired in the trade that sent popular left-hander Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals.
Milone, 26, set an Oakland rookie record (along with teammate Jarrod Parker) with 13 wins. He led the team in starts (31), innings pitched (190) and walks per nine innings (1.71, also the second-lowest in the American League). He had 137 strikeouts against 36 walks.
The A's were 20-11 in Milone's regular season starts, and in the A.L. Division Series against Detroit, he pitched six innings of five-hit, one-run ball in Game 2 at Comerica Park. It was a performance that might have turned the series Oakland's way had the A's not faltered in the late innings and lost 5-4.
"Every time we needed a big game out of Tommy, whether it was at home or on the road, he came up big for us," A's manager Bob Melvin said.
Was he Oakland's best starting pitcher? It's a worthy debate. And Melvin thinks Milone could be even better in 2013 even though the pitcher rarely exceeds 90 mph on the radar gun.
"He's not a guy who settles or gets comfortable," Melvin said. "He works as hard as anyone we have. ... He's really becoming kind of a subtle leader as far as the starters go, even if he doesn't look at himself that way."
He's also working with a pitching coach in Curt Young who performed quite successfully as a soft-tossing but mentally tough lefty with the A's. Milone has heard the comparisons.
"Curt knows me better than anybody else," he said. "I never saw him pitch, but I can kind of get an idea how he pitched just by his demeanor and how calm and poised he is. That's what I try to be."
Young thinks Milone has the potential to be better than he was.
"Location is the name of the game, and Tom's already one of the best at it in the game," Young said. "He's a young left-hander with a great understanding of pitching.
How pinpoint is Milone?
"If he misses a pitch by a hair, he's disgusted," said Norris, who also came to Oakland in the Gonzalez trade. "It's fascinating what he can do. He's really deceptive. When hitters think they've figured something out against him, he comes up with something completely unexpected."
Milone sees year two as one in which he'll have to refine himself, because there's a scouting report on him now.
"You have to be the one to improve and adapt ahead of everyone else," Milone said. "You can't just sit by and pitch the same way every time. You have to learn new ways to get guys out."
Staff writer John Hickey contributed to this report.
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