EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Smitty on Baseball

July 8, 2014

Strikeout machine Miller has gained value in time with Red Sox

BOSTON — Andrew Miller has posted a 2.84 ERA in 104.2 innings of relief for the Boston Red Sox since the start of the 2012 season, but his career ERA still is an inflated 5.13.

That just goes to show how poorly he pitched before arriving in Boston and being converted into a full-time relief pitcher during his second year here.

Red Sox lefty Andrew Miller (Associated Press)

While the Red Sox lost again yesterday, falling 7-6 in 12 innings to the Baltimore Orioles here at Fenway Park, Miller pitched yet another scoreless inning.
You’ve probably heard Miller’s story. The southpaw had a dominant college career at UNC and was selected sixth overall by Detroit in the 2006 draft. But the Tigers rushed him through their system and Miller struggled with the command of his pitches once he arrived in the big leagues. He began giving up a ton of walks and a ton of runs. He fell quickly from potential Detroit Tigers ace to a first-round bust.
He then struggled with his control during three years with the Marlins before ending up with Boston where he has thrived and has enjoyed baseball and life.
“My wife (Katie) and I have had a really good time here,” Miller told The Eagle-Tribune this past weekend. “I love living near the ballpark. And compared to where else I’ve been there’s nowhere more fun to win than Boston. 
“I’ve seen quite the roller coaster ride here,” he added. “I’ve been here for a World Series winning team, a team that missed the playoffs on the last day of the season, the Bobby V (Bobby Valentine) year where it seemed like anything that could go wrong did go wrong. Right now, hopefully, we can make this another unique year and turn this one around.”
But time is beginning to run out for the Red Sox who with yesterday’s loss dropped to 10 games below .500 (39-49) and nine games behind first-place Baltimore. 
Meanwhile, Miller’s time here might be running out, too.
He is one of a few Red Sox with some value who GM Ben Cherington potentially could trade by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline if the Sox continue to fall farther out of playoff contention in the new couple of weeks. 
Miller, whose ERA dropped to 2.41 and his WHIP to 0.95 yesterday, will be a free agent this coming offseason. And so taking into account both the trade deadline and his impending free agency, Miller is well aware his days in a Red Sox uniform might be numbered. If he does leave Boston, he’ll always be grateful for his time here.
“I think any negatives that come along with not playing well here are worth it — the trade off for that,” Miller said. “I’ve loved it here. The people are great. The organization is great. ... During the summer, you can walk down Newbury Street and go down Boylston and eat lunch outside and that kind of stuff is awesome.”
Miller’s value? 
Miller’s life has changed considerably with the Boston Red Sox. He came here as a pitcher looking for a big league chance. He could be leaving here this offseason with a multi-year contract in hand. 
The Providence Journal noted over the weekend that Miller could match or exceed the three-year, $16.5 million contract left-handed reliever Boone Logan signed with Colorado this past offseason. 
Miller’s value exists in his tag as a strikeout relief pitcher. 
Need a strikeout? Bring in Andrew Miller. 
He entered his relief outing yesterday with a career-high 15.2 strikeouts per nine inning in 2014. Fourteen of his previous 16 outs entering yesterday’s game came by way of the strikeout.
Was Miller thinking about the strikeout when he came into a game last week against the Cubs with runners on the corners and one out? 
Sure he was ... and got the Red Sox out of the jam by striking out the next two hitters. 
“I think in that situation, you do look for it (the strikeout), but ultimately, you’re trying to get outs,” Miller said. “I got Coco Crisp out in that game in Oakland (on a lineout). That was probably one of the biggest outs I got out of the last 16  ... and it wasn’t a strikeout. The goal at the end of the day is to put zeros up.”
Miller had an unusual day yesterday but still did the job. He pitched the eighth and held the O’s to one of those zeroes he was talking about. After the first Baltimore batter reached on an infield single, Miller induced a double play and then a ground out to second to end the frame.
“The reason strikeouts are so valuable right now is because nothing can go wrong in theory,” Miller said. “There can’t be an error. It can’t find a hole. One of my worst outings this year, I got the ground ball, exactly as I wanted, but it hopped 15 times through the six hole. When you’re a ground ball pitcher, you see guys like Burke (Badenhop), once they get the ball on the ground, it’s out of their control and so many things can go wrong.”
In control 
Miller is dominating this year with a blazing fastball, a nasty slider and much improved control. His command actually has gotten even better this year. Before this season, the lefty had walked at least 4.5 batters per nine innings every season of his career.
He had walked just 2.8 batters per nine innings entering yesterday.
He has become mainly a two-pitch (fastball, slider) pitcher as a reliever. He hasn’t thrown his changeup in two years. 
And he doesn’t think relieving as opposed to starting is the reason he has gained better control.
“I think I’ve enjoyed getting to pitch on a more regular basis, but going back to the time before my opt-out clause I think I had thrown 21 or 22 innings without a walk (at Pawtucket),” he said. “So I feel like my mechanics were getting back to where they needed to be. There’s always going to be ruts when I don’t feel good and I’m a little out of whack. But ideally those are as short as possible, and I think I’ve made pretty good adjustments to limit those happenings.”
Funny how things end up working out. Miller had an opt-out clause in his contract during his first season with Boston in 2011. He was going to use it had the Red Sox not promoted him from Triple-A Pawtucket to Boston by mid-June of that season.
“Obviously it’s worked out pretty well here,” he said. “I was pretty certain at that time that if the Red Sox weren’t going to find a place on the roster for me that I knew I was going to have opportunities.”
Luckily for both sides, the Red Sox did find a place for him. Both sides have reaped the benefits.
Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB


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