Originally created 09/14/99

Braves notebook: Millwood could reach 20 wins



SAN DIEGO -- Kevin Millwood heads to the mound tonight against the Padres with a chance to match last year's 17 wins and an outside shot at 20.

Admitting that he's exceeded his own expectations, he is third in the National League with a 2.91 ERA, sixth with 175 strikeouts and first with a .205 batting average against.

"I didn't see myself being where I am right now," he said. "It seems like everything has worked out pretty well. I think after last year a lot of people said it was a fluke. I expected myself to win as many games, but I don't think I expected to pitch as well as often as I have."

In his only start against the Padres this season, Millwood did not receive a decision in a 4-3 loss at Qualcomm Stadium on May 7. In four career starts against them he is 1-1 with a 4.24 ERA, his only win a 5-1 decision in Atlanta on May 9 last year.

"I've learned a little more about pitching this year," he said. "It's always nice to match or do better than you did the year before. There's a shot (at 20 wins), but I'm not going to put that pressure on myself." ...

San Diego has scheduled a trio of right-handers to work the series, meaning Ryan Klesko will be in the lineup every night, the first time he's played three straight games since Aug. 19-21. Klesko, who's hitting .106 against left-handers this season and entered the season with a .221 career average against them, no longer does a slow burn when Bobby Cox sits him with a left-hander on the mound.

"I'd like to get in there more," he said. "It's tough to (hit left-handers) when you don't see them except every two weeks, but it gives the other guys on the team a chance to play. I'm not selfish. I've gotten used to it. I'm not bitter about anything."

Klesko is having his finest season since he hit 34 homers and drove in 93 runs in 1996. His 20 homers and 73 RBI rank fourth on the team and he's hitting .300, his best average since hitting .310 in 107 games in 1995.

"I've felt good basically all year," he said. "I feel really good about what's happened this year. I knew if I felt healthy with my wrist, I'd finish strong." ...

Several years ago Tom Glavine began winter workouts to strengthen his left shoulder and increase his overall fitness. He thinks it's all worked too well. The workouts increased his strength, which in turn added some velocity to his fastball this year. That's a no-no for a pitcher who relies on a sinking fastball and changeup to keep hitters off-balance.

Instead of a sinker in the 88 m.p.h. range, Glavine's fastball has often been in the 91-92 m.p.h. range and instead of sinking, it's straightened out. As if that wasn't bad enough, he also found he couldn't locate his pitches as well, which helps explain his 11-11 record and 4.29 ERA, almost two runs higher than last season.

"I'm going the other way," he said. "Most guys go from being a power pitcher to being a finesse pitcher. I've gone from being a finesse pitcher to a power pitcher."

In last Saturday's start against the Giants, Glavine finally backed off a little bit and was pleasantly surprised to find his trademark sinker and changeup again. It ended up being a 3-2 loss, but he came away feeling he'd finally pinpointed his lack of consistency.

"It was the best game I've pitched all year long, as far as doing the things I wanted to do," he said. "I felt like for the first time I had consistent movement on my sinker and changeup and I felt under control. I wasn't maxing out on every pitch."

Certainly Glavine's .500 record doesn't indicate how well he's pitched this season. John Rocker has blown a couple of saves in his games and he's worked effectively in others and come away with no-decisions. But as he says, "If I pitch well in the postseason, that's all anybody will remember anyway."

"It would be a lot tougher if I was a young player trying to make my mark," he said. "As a veteran you tend to pay more attention to the way you're throwing the ball. If I throw the ball good and still lose, you can't get overly concerned about it. You've just got to keep going out there and doing your thing."

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.