Rangers introduce ace Millwood

Rangers introduce ace Millwood

ARLINGTON -- How the new-look Rangers pitching staff will fare in the competitive American League West in 2006 is to be determined, but there were at least two certainties clarified Thursday morning.

First, Kevin Millwood will be the club's Opening Day starter. Secondly, he's not afraid to pitch in the hitter-friendly confines of Ameriquest Field in Arlington. The ballpark, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, allowed 233 home runs, the second-most in baseball in 2005, behind the 246 at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

"When I go out on the mound, there is a guy on the other team pitching in the same ballpark so there is really no advantage or disadvantage," Millwood said during his first press conference at Ameriquest Field in Arlington. "The numbers might not be as great as they are at some other parks, but it's all about winning. I'm pitching against another guy. I'm not pitching against the ballpark."

The baritone-voiced right-hander recently finalized his five-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers less than a week after agreeing to the contract. The agreement calls for a vesting option for a fifth year based on performance criteria.

The Rangers were understandably giddy.

"This is a big holiday gift to Rangers fans from [owner] Tom Hicks," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "I can promise you from first-hand knowledge that there is nobody in the country more committed to making the Texas Rangers winners than Tom Hicks."

It showed. Millwood's deal marks the biggest commitment by the Rangers to a player since signing Chan Ho Park to five-year deal in 2002. Park was traded to San Diego last season.

"Anytime you make a commitment of that many years and dollars, there is a risk analysis," Daniels said. "The reasons we felt were worth it were not only Kevin's performance, but also because of the type of man he is. It made too much sense for us with the maturity level of our players, maturity level of our organization and Minor League players."

The time seems right for Millwood and the Rangers.

Last season, Millwood went 9-11 for the Indians, leading the American League with a 2.86 ERA. An All-Star in 1999, Millwood won at least 17 games in three of five seasons with the Atlanta Braves from 1998-2002.

He joins a rotation that will feature Adam Eaton and Vicente Padilla. A list of candidates that includes Kameron Loe, Juan Dominguez, R.A. Dickey, Joaquin Benoit, Josh Rupe, and C.J. Wilson will compete for the final two spots in the rotation.

"The biggest thing for me was going to a place where I felt I had a chance to win," Millwood said. "I feel like this team is good enough to win the division. Everybody knows that you get into the playoffs, anything can happen."

Millwood knows of what he speaks. He has pitched in three National League Division Series, two League Championship Series and in the World Series with Atlanta in 1999. He pitched a scoreless inning in the game.

He is 107-75 with a 3.76 ERA in parts of nine seasons with Atlanta, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

"His credentials on the field speak for themselves," Daniels said. "As much as anything, what attracted us to Kevin were the intangibles -- his character, his makeup and person on and off the field. We did our homework and we heard the same thing -- terms like 'bulldog,' 'tenacious,' 'competitor,' and 'great around young pitchers.' These are all things we are ecstatic about as we go forward."

Said Millwood, "I'm not going to come in and start telling guys what to do. It's not what I do. We have a pitching coach to coach these guys. If there is a time when anybody has a question, I will be more than happy to answer. I'll do what I can."

Millwood's part is helping the Rangers return to the postseason for the first time since 1999. Despite a cast of All-Stars like Michael Young, Mark Teixeira, Hank Blalock, Francisco Cordero and Kenny Rogers, the club finished third in the AL West for the second consecutive season in 2005.

The challenge does not get any easier in 2006.

"I get to see Seattle, Anaheim and Oakland first-hand a lot, and I know how good they are," Rangers manager Buck Showalter said. "I also realize what winning teams look like. They have guys like Adam, Vicente and Kameron. We are getting closer to getting on that page."

In addition to the new pitching rotation, the Rangers outfield will feature David Dellucci, Kevin Mench, Gary Matthews Jr., Laynce Nix and Brad Wilkerson in an order to be determined. Gerald Laird and Rod Barajas will go the Spring Training as the catchers on the big-league roster and Ian Kinsler will get the opportunity to show he can play second base on the Major League level. The Rangers remain interested in Roger Clemens.

"I think it's a constantly evolving roster," Daniels said. "For the most part, the biggest moves we will make are probably behind us."

"There is a hunger level on the team and we want to see what we can do," Daniels continued. "This is not a perfect roster or win-at-all costs situation. We have the opportunity for the next few years to continue to put out a competitive club. This is a multi-year deal, not just for 2006."

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