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Millwood strong in return for Rangers

Millwood strong in return for Rangers

ARLINGTON -- This is why Kevin Millwood didn't go out on a medical rehabilitation assignment before being activated off the disabled list.

The Rangers saw this when Millwood threw in a simulated game last weekend in Cleveland and didn't want to waste it in Triple-A Oklahoma. They need it at the Major League level and this was a good start.

In fact, it was a quality start and a victory, the first for Millwood in a month, as he pitched the Rangers to a 3-1 victory over the Athletics at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Friday. Millwood went six strong innings in his first start since coming off the disabled list to earn his third victory of the season and first since April 30.

The Rangers had considered sending Millwood to the Minor Leagues for one rehab start, but he convinced them that he was ready. Friday's performance was proof that it was the right decision.

"We needed him to do what he did," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We needed him to give us six and it looked almost like he was going to give us seven. He's our ace and he held down a team that was pretty hot."

Eddie Guardado, Joaquin Benoit and C.J. Wilson, who earned his 11th save, finished off the final three innings, and the Rangers have won 21 of their past 33 games to move back to the .500 mark at 28-28. They are also just 1 1/2 games in back of the second-place Athletics in the American League West.

"It was awesome to see Milly get back out there, get activated, then come out 100 percent and pitch a great game," Wilson said. "It's enormous because Millwood the last two years has been our innings guy, a guy we can count on. The better he pitches, the better we all play."

Brandon Boggs wasn't in the Rangers' original starting lineup but ended up starting and driving in all the Rangers' runs with a fourth-inning double, a sixth-inning sacrifice fly and another RBI double in the eighth. Boggs found out 30 minutes before the game he was playing after Milton Bradley complained of lightheadedness and dizziness in the heat.

"It's definitey satisfying because every day I want to prove something so I can stay up here as long as I can," Boggs said. "A player in my position, when you're backing up or not playing, you still come to the park ready to play because you may have to come in late in the game or somebody is going to get hurt or be sick."

Millwood is the one who has been injured, but there were no signs of any physical problems on Friday night. He retired the side in order in the first inning, striking out Travis Buck and Jack Cust in the process, and that proved to be a good indication of how the rest of the night would go.

"Physically everything was fine," Millwood said. "The groin didn't bother me at all and it was easy to get loose with the [hot] weather the way it was. I located my fastball well and when I do that, I usually pitch well."

The groin injury, although not the preferred method, may have helped a little bit. Millwood had a similar injury with the Indians in 2005, the year he led the American League ERA. Millwood said the injury keeps him back on the mound, rather rushing his body, his delivery and, ultimately, his pitches.

He was especially effective with a fastball that tailed back inside on left-handers. Catcher Gerald Laird referred to it as the "comebacker" and all five of Millwood's strikeouts came with a left-handed hitter at the plate.

"The big thing was locating my fastball, whether it was to left-handers or right-handers," Millwood said. "When I wanted to throw it inside, I threw it inside. When I wanted to throw it outside, I threw it outside. I think I missed with only two or three pitches out over the plate and that was huge."

Millwood allowed five hits and four were doubles. But he was able to hold the Athletics to 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and he did not walk a batter. The Rangers, who entered the game leading the league in free passes, did not walk a batter all game.

Millwood, on the mound for the first time since May 3, left after 86 pitches and finished with his fifth quality start of the year, but his first since April 20 in Boston.

"Millwood is a professional," Laird said. "He was pitching with a lot of confidence, not like a guy who was in his first game back. He pitched like he's been there before."

He has been. Now the Rangers need him back and pitching like this for an extended period of time.

"It would be huge," Laird said. "With him at the top of our rotation and the way [Vicente] Padilla has been pitching, our young guys can feed off that. It would be huge. If Milly can get going at this point of the season, it could really get us on a roll through the All-Star break."

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

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