OAKLAND – Until this month, Tommy Milone's career trajectory since being drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 10th round in 2008 could have been described as a steady climb.
Milone spent each season from 2009 to 2011 at ascending minor-league levels and won 12 games at each stop. He pitched his first full major-league season with the A's last year and won 13 games.
The left-hander was on pace for a similar win total at 9-8 after July. But his first start in August, a rough outing against the Rangers, led to arguably his first step backward – an option to the River Cats on Aug. 3.
"It's not something I wanted," Milone said after he rejoined the A's to start their 7-3 win over the Cleveland Indians on Sunday. "But it could be a good thing in the long run.
"It was kind of an eye opener. Now that I'm back up, I feel a lot better. I felt good when I was down there pitch-wise."
Milone was recalled Sunday to take the rotation spot of Bartolo Colon, whom the A's placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin.
Milone departed in the fifth inning of a 3-3 game having allowed two unearned runs after a throwing error by third baseman Alberto Callaspo.
So Milone didn't qualify for the win when solo homers by Chris Young and Callaspo in the bottom of the inning broke the tie.
Despite that and a high pitch count (97), manager Bob Melvin said, "All in all, the performance was pretty good. If we make one more play, it's a little different for him.
"The pitch count was a little high, so he probably doesn't get much deeper but he only walked one guy, was pretty efficient, had a better curveball today."
Milone said the issues that led to his demotion included lapses in command and inability to throw his curveball for strikes, and that he felt improvement in both areas Sunday, when he walked the one batter and struck out five.
Milone allowed a solo homer to Ryan Raburn in the second but escaped a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the fourth by striking out catcher Yan Gomes.
After Milone departed, four A's relievers combined to hold Cleveland scoreless, including 1 2/3 innings from Dan Otero, who earned the win and has a 1.42 ERA in 18 games with the A's.
With Colon out for the next two weeks, Melvin said the rotation spot belongs to Milone for now.
But the rotation – and Milone's place in it – could get murkier soon with Opening Day starter Brett Anderson apparently preparing to return from a foot fracture and newcomer Sonny Gray having already made a strong impression.
Assuming Colon is OK to return after his 15 days on the disabled list, that makes for a crowded picture.
Anderson made his first rehabilitation start with the River Cats on Saturday, and Melvin said Sunday the A's could activate Anderson after one more rehab start – scheduled for Thursday – if everything goes well.
Melvin was asked if the A's might consider going to a six-man rotation in September. He said that although "it's a possibility, I think it would probably be difficult to do."
Milone then was asked if he feels his upcoming starts are an audition for a starting job.
"I really can't afford to think like that," Milone said. "I've just got to take it one game at a time, and hopefully they stick with me, and hopefully I'm somewhere on this team, whether it's in the pen or I'm still starting."
Similarly, Melvin said the A's haven't decided what Anderson's role will be, but that if the A's do opt to have him start, they could bring Anderson up before he reaches a regular pitch count and have the bullpen ready to back him up.
Anderson threw 49 pitches Saturday night and said he felt no pain Sunday in his foot or arm.
"We don't want to waste his bullets on rehab assignments," Melvin said. "We want to get him to the big leagues as soon as he can."