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12/17/08 7:29 PM EST

Millwood steaming toward next season

Pitcher focusing on getting in best shape possible amid trade rumors

ARLINGTON -- Kevin Millwood has been working hard this winter, but he is not oblivious to the trade rumors.

Millwood has heard, and Major League sources have confirmed, that other teams have shown at least preliminary interest in both him and Vicente Padilla. The Rangers aren't exactly in a position to trade pitching, but if they could move either Millwood or Padilla it would allow them to pick up their interest in free-agent pitcher Ben Sheets.

Millwood has heard and understands all that, but he is determined not to let it deter him from preparing for the 2009 season. He has already shed at least 12 pounds this winter and said he is determined to do everything possible to get back to the level the Rangers expect from their Opening Day pitcher.

"I've heard [the rumors], but I haven't placed a whole lot of thought into it," Millwood said. "There is not a whole lot I can do about it. I'm trying to focus on getting ready for the season. If I'm not here, I'll be ready wherever I go."

Millwood spoke at the Rangers' media holiday party Tuesday, and it was obvious that he had definitely lost some weight since the season ended.

"Really I've just been working out, lifting weights and running," Millwood said. "I've been watching my diet a little bit. I'm headed in a good direction. I haven't weighed myself lately, but I just hope I'm headed in the right direction and [will] see what happens. I'm feeling better, that's what I'm looking for."

Right now, Millwood is still the Rangers' ace and leader of the pitching staff. The club spoke to the agents for Sheets and Randy Johnson during the Winter Meetings, but it has not had any subsequent contact and nothing is imminent on the trade front.

"I've struggled the last couple of years, and I want to get this going in the right direction," Millwood said. "I think this team is headed in a good direction, and I want to be a part of it. I want to get things going in a good direction for myself. With the offense this team has, you can win a lot of games if you just stay out there as long as you can."

Hot Stove

Millwood is entering his fourth season with the Rangers. He started off on the right track, going 16-12 with a 4.52 ERA in 34 starts and 215 innings in 2006. But he slipped to 10-14 with a 5.16 ERA in 31 starts and 172 2/3 innings in '07, and followed in '08 by going 9-10 with a 5.07 ERA in 29 starts and 168 2/3 innings.

He went on the disabled list twice in 2007 with a strained left hamstring and twice more in '08 with a strained right groin muscle. That's why he's trying to renew his efforts to get in the best possible condition and lose some weight for next season.

"I think it will help quite a bit, especially late in the game," Millwood said. "It should help me repeat my delivery more consistently and help me with the physical part of pitching. As long as something freaky doesn't happen, it should be a big part of me staying healthy."

There is much on the line. Millwood needs to pitch at least 180 innings this year to automatically garner his $12 million salary for 2010.

Millwood originally signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the Rangers three years ago. But the contract had a special clause that allowed the club to void the fifth year of the contract if Millwood did not pitch 540 innings from 2007-'09, 360 innings from '08-'09 or 180 innings in '09.

Basically, it comes down to Millwood needing at least 180 innings next season to guarantee his fifth year. The Rangers could bring Millwood back even if he doesn't pitch 180 innings, but that would be difficult to imagine.

"I'm doing everything I can to make sure it happens," Millwood said. "Getting in shape is part of it. The other part is going out and performing."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.