SARASOTA, Fla. -- Kevin Millwood, welcome to the American League East.
While Baltimore's Opening Day starter is no stranger to his new club's divisional foes in New York, Boston, Toronto and Tampa Bay, when Millwood pulls the orange jersey over his head and assumes the mound Tuesday, it will officially signal the beginning of the organization's Phase 2. Gone are the days when the Orioles lacked a veteran presence on whom the inexperienced arms could lean. Gone, too, is the sentiment that winning is secondary to the growth and progression of the young guys.
President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has made it clear: The kid gloves are off. So it is only fitting for Baltimore to hand the ball to the 35-year-old Millwood, a veteran acquired from Texas as much for his reputation as his repertoire.
"Andy said character counts here, and he wanted somebody who could mentor these young guys," manager Dave Trembley said. "We can all be nice, but you don't ever misrepresent kindness for weakness. I think Millwood would knock you on your [butt] in a heartbeat in a game. He'll be nice to you, but he'll knock you on your [butt]."
For the seventh time in his 13-year career, Millwood will get the ball on Opening Day. He was tabbed for the task twice in Philadelphia and four times with Texas, winning last year's Rangers season debut with seven innings of one-run baseball.
Millwood will be relied on for a similar outing against Tampa Bay. He is 2-2 with a 6.16 ERA in five games against the Rays; a number that inflates to 6.63 in the three starts Millwood has made inside Tropicana Field.
"It's a lot easier to lead or mentor, or whatever you want to call it, when you are throwing the ball well," Millwood said. "It seems like what you say carries a little more 'oomph' to it."
Historically, the season's initial months have been kind to the veteran right-hander. Millwood has a career 3.94 ERA in 64 games in March and April, and last year he went at least seven innings in all five of his April starts and in his first two starts in May.
"I expect that at the end of the year, his addition to the media guide is going to be right where it's been -- 200 innings, he's not going to miss a start," Trembley said. "He's going to give us a chance to win, he's going to pitch deep into games. I have to believe that."
Millwood will be opposed by Rays right-hander James Shields, who will be making his team-record third consecutive Opening Day start. The 28-year-old Shields is the elder statesmen of a young and talented Tampa Bay staff, and, like Millwood, Shields has built a reputation as pitcher who consistently works deep into games. Shields has posted three consecutive seasons with 215 total innings, and he excels at home. He owns a 25-14 mark with a 3.40 ERA at Tropicana Field, and is 6-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 15 career starts against the Orioles.
While Trembley has not officially announced the Opening Day lineup, he has revealed several pieces of the puzzle. Converted shortstop and free-agent acquisition Miguel Tejada will make his official debut at third base and is expected to bat cleanup, while left fielder Felix Pie will get his first Opening Day start in an O's uniform. Free-agent acquisitions first baseman Garrett Atkins and closer Mike Gonzalez could also each make their respective Birds debut.
"I think everybody's kind of excited about the unknown," Millwood said. "We got a lot of young pitchers, a lot of young players, but we got a nice mix of older, seasoned guys. So I think everybody's interested to see how it meshes together."
The Orioles are aware that they play in arguably the toughest division in baseball. In addition to baseball's two behemoths -- in the Yankees and the Red Sox -- they must also contend with a dangerously deep and talented Rays team. Starting Tuesday, 21 of Baltimore's first 28 games will be against a divisional opponent.
"There's no doubt in my mind [we can compete]," said catcher Matt Wieters, who is scheduled to make his first Opening Day start. "We have the talent, now it's going to be getting experience as you go. But it's really just competing. And that's the good thing about baseball, is it doesn't matter how much money or what kind of players you put on your team ... anyone can win in this game."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.