MIAMI — It took Eric Milton nearly two years to reach the mound in Miami.
It was a journey that started with ligament-replacement surgery in a left elbow so strong he had once been a first-round draft pick. And it included detours through spring training camps in Florida and Arizona, and visits to minor league ballparks in Scranton, Pa.; Iowa; Albuquerque; and Oklahoma City.
And although his stay wound up being a short one, lasting only four innings and 84 pitches, it was a start.
Maybe not the start Milton and the Dodgers wanted, but a start nonetheless.
"I obviously worked hard, and this has been my goal ever since I had the surgery," said Milton, who gave up two runs and two hits in a game the Dodgers lost to the Florida Marlins, 6-3. "I felt like I belonged. And I finally made it back. I just needed to take advantage of it."
Wildness prevented him from doing that Saturday, with Milton missing the strike zone with more than half his pitches, walking four men and hitting another. Two of those bases on balls led to two-out runs, with one being forced home on a bases-loaded walk in the third inning.
"I didn't like what I saw and they didn't either," Milton said. "I just didn't get the job done."
And now it's uncertain when he'll get another chance. With an off day next week, the Dodgers are likely to skip Milton's next turn in the rotation. And a trip to the bullpen probably isn't the best thing for a guy trying to build arm strength after sitting out nearly two full seasons.
But Manager Joe Torre, whose team lost for the first time in four games, isn't tipping his hand either way.
"I'm sure there was emotion involved here," Torre said. "It's not fair to just judge on one outing. I thought he looked comfortable out there. But it looked like, at times, he tried to be just too perfect."
Still, he might have gotten away with it if an offense that had banged out at least 11 hits and averaged six runs in its last six games had managed more than three runs and seven hits against five Florida pitchers -- with former Marlin Juan Pierre accounting for three of the hits and all three runs.
Or if Jeff Weaver (2-1), the man who followed him to the mound, had gotten a better call on a 1-2 pitch he threw to Jorge Cantu with two out in the fifth. Weaver was so sure the sidearm slider had caught the plate, he started toward the dugout.
But umpire Ed Rapuano disagreed and two pitches later Cantu singled.
"I want that pitch every time," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "It ended up being quite a turning point."
Especially when John Baker followed with a two-run homer, giving the Marlins a lead they would never relinquish.
Not that Milton was looking to place blame. You don't win 87 games and last 10 seasons in the majors by doing that.
"I've got nobody to blame but myself," he said. "I didn't get the job done today. That's the bottom line."
Well, part of the bottom line anyway. Because although the Dodgers lost the game, the 33-year-old Milton made it back to the majors. And if he winds up contributing to a staff that leads the National League in wins and earned-run average, his start will be remembered for more than the four walks or the final score.
"Obviously, this is where I want to be," Milton said. "Joe [Torre] just said he wanted me to be a part of it. Part of the team and a part of what they're trying to accomplish here.
"There's really no other organization I'd want to be with."
When: 10 a.m. PDT.
Where: Land Shark Stadium, Miami.
On the air: TV: Channel 9; Radio: 790, 930.
Probable pitchers: Clayton Kershaw vs. John Koronka.
Update: Kershaw pitched well for three innings his last time out in Philadelphia but then needed 68 pitches to get through the next two innings, thanks in part to four walks. The result was his third loss in four decisions. So Manager Joe Torre and pitching coaching Rick Honeycutt had a long, closed-door talk with the 21-year-old the next day in which they urged him to slow down and stop trying to be perfect when he's on the mound.
-- Kevin Baxter