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Milledge ready for fresh start

Milledge ready for fresh start

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Outfielder Lastings Milledge received a 56-game sampling of life with the Mets last season, and the club considered allowing its talent-laden 21-year-old to play Winter League ball to quicken his maturation.

In the end, general manager Omar Minaya opted against sending him to the Dominican Republic. Minaya's message: get stronger through weightlifting, something Milledge had never before tried.

The result is that Milledge gained 13 offseason pounds of mostly muscle. And he added a healthy twist of his own, dramatically cutting down on his intake of red meat, particularly hamburgers.

"My nutrition was kind of bad," Milledge said Monday after his arrival at camp here. "My family helped me out with that, saying you can only eat a couple burgers a week. So I started eating only a burger a week. Now it's become a routine. I don't eat them that often. I feel a lot better now. [I] feel I have more energy."

Earlier he had asserted, "I'm able to do things I wasn't able to do last year."

Milledge made his Major League debut on May 30, after the Mets traded outfielder Xavier Nady for relief help. He drove in his first Major League runs on June 4 against the Giants and even added a game-tying home run in the 10th, but overall, the promotion showed only glimpses of his potential.

He finished with a .241 average with four home runs and 22 RBIs. That contrasted starkly with his .303 average in the Minors in 1,100 at-bats, with 30 homers and 150 RBIs.

Mets manager Willie Randolph comes into Spring Training with a veteran outfield featuring Shawn Green, Carlos Beltran and Moises Alou. So he played off questions Monday of Milledge's starting chances, saying that would be better addressed of him near Spring Training's end.

"Could he have grown up in the last six months?" Randolph said. "That's what we want to see. What I like to see in young kids is an awareness. I'm going to be watching him for just that reason, to see how much he's matured."

Milledge said the time with the Mets last year gave him an insight and a springboard to be better on and off the field this year.

"You learn to carry yourself as a man, you learn to be accountable," he said. "When you're young, you don't know what's out there. Now I know how to handle business, know what's going on."

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Billy Wagner, the team's closer, believes Milledge has a number of great examples on the club on how to be an exemplary Major Leaguer.

"And when Moises gets here, he'll have another great example of how to act, how to walk and interact with his teammates," Wagner said. "I just know we're excited that he's coming to camp. He's got a lot of talent."

Milledge, a Palmetto, Fla., resident, also said he's learned how to actually watch a baseball game.

"I'd never really sat down and watched a game, found out how such small things can be big things at the end," he said. "Everything [at the Major League level] is so discreet, everything is so small. A missed cutoff can lose the game. You get an assist here or there and it can win a game. A sacrifice bunt can win a game. In the Minors, those things didn't seem so big."

Milledge was left off the Mets' postseason roster, but he apparently didn't allow that to be magnified in his mind in the offseason.

"Things just didn't work out -- you go with it," he said. "It's nothing personal."

Conversely, what shines through is that Milledge is not lacking of self-confidence.

"People who've paid attention to my career know what I can do," he said. "That's people who really know me as a player. They know what I have. Now it's just putting it together and putting up nice numbers."

Randolph hinted on Monday that Milledge would open the season with the Mets only if he wins a starting job.

"I'm more of a believer that young kids should get to play," the manager said. "I don't see him as a backup outfielder."

Then Randolph offered a caveat, however unlikely. He said if he felt his club needed more speed, that might open the door for someone like Milledge, who stole 26, 29 and 13 bases in the Minors in the three seasons leading to last year's promotion.

"My ultimate goal is to win a roster spot," Milledge said. "Whatever happens from there, I'm open to it."

Charlie Nobles is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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