PHOENIX -- For much of the offseason, speculation has been that left-hander Tommy Milone would be the odd-man out in the A's rotation.
Manager Bob Melvin doesn't see it that way, and he wanted to make sure Milone understood. Therefore, Melvin invited Milone into his office for an early-morning chat.
"Bob wanted to make it clear that I knew that whenever he talks about the rotation (to the media), I'm a part of the conversation," Milone said.
As well he should be.
Milone moved into the A's rotation in 2012 and has won 25 games the past two years. But last season, he suffered through his second straight second-half skid, and this time Milone was shipped to the minors. In 2012, Milone was skipped over for a start but stayed in Oakland.
Second-half struggles are not the ideal formula to guarantee a spot in the rotation, so it's small wonder that after the emergence of Dan Straily, the promotion of Sonny Gray and the signing of veteran lefty Scott Kazmir, it's Milone who is being seen as the sixth man in a five-man rotation. The other starters are Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin.
Milone will either be the long man and spot starter come opening day or he'll be starting for Triple-A Sacramento.
"I'll be pitching this spring like I have to win a job," Milone said Monday. "It's not a change, though. That's how I always approach it. Mentally, that's how I go at everything."
Melvin says he likes Milone's mental toughness, and the left-hander underscored it by his performance after spending his two weeks in Sacramento last year. He came back and posted a 2.70 ERA in four starts, beating the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels down the stretch.
Milone described it as "a great confidence boost."
"He made great spot starts in two huge games for us (Detroit and Texas, both wins)," Melvin said. "His makeup suggests he can do that job. It was a huge lift for him, because it can get lonely in that role. You feel left out."
The question now is whether Milone will elbow his way back into the rotation. He says he's prepared should he wind up in the bullpen or in Sacramento, but he's not going without a fight.
"It's the same as last year," Milone said. "I've got to perform."