BOSTON — Andrew Miller knows what his former University of North Carolina teammate Daniel Bard is going through.
Bard, as we all know, couldn’t find the strike zone as a starter this year for Boston, averaging 6.1 walks per nine innings before being demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket to solve his command issues.
Miller has experienced even worse control issues during his career. The Boston left-handed reliever walked 10 batters and hit two others in 10.1 innings with Detroit as a 21-year-old rookie in 2006.
He averaged 7.2 walks per nine innings pitching while throwing 32.2 innings during 2010 for the Marlins. In 130 career appearances, including 66 starts, Miller has averaged 5.2 walks per nine innings.
“He probably wasn’t quite ready to pitch in the big leagues,” Detroit Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont admitted about Miller being called up in ‘06. “We tried to do it awfully quick and he probably wasn’t ready to handle it.
“His stuff was good — you could see that — but he was wild,” added Lamont, who interviewed for the Red Sox managerial position this past offseason. “But I think it was probably a push for him to pitch in the big leagues, and I think that was probably part of the problem. And obviously, now he’s doing a good job.”
This year has been a different story for Miller, now 27 years old, who was sixth overall pick in 2006 draft, being selected ahead of Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Bard.
Some people in baseball — not Miller himself — have blamed the lefty’s continued command issues from 2006-11 on Detroit rushing him through the system.
But this year he is finally overcoming his wildness. He is averaging only 2.4 walks per nine innings. He also has struck out 10.8 batters per nine innings, the best mark of his career, and has a 4.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio compared a 1.44 ratio for his career.
After missing the first 26 games this season with a strained left hamstring, Miller has posted a 3.04 ERA and impressive 0.975 WHIP (compared to his 1.697 career WHIP) in 34 games (26.2 innings).
Most importantly though, he is confident he can throw strikes.
From 2007-11, at least 69 percent of his appearances each season were starts. All his work this year, however, has been out of the bullpen.
“I’m getting regular opportunities and so far so good,” Miller said. “It really helps pitching in situations where the phone kind of rings and you go in right away. It eliminates the possibility of over-thinking. I think in a lot of ways I get in my own way. I think the adrenaline and just simplifying my mechanics has certainly been a key to my success.
“Everything’s a process,” he added. “And I don’t think that me pitching well out of the bullpen is solely because it is out of the bullpen. The work that I’ve put in the last couple of years with who knows how many people (is the reason).”
Miller had developed some bad habits in his pitching mechanics and the ball wasn’t coming out of his hand that way he wanted it. Pitching out of the stretch has helped him simplify things.
“My stuff has been really good this year, and I think it is kind of back to where I was or where I think I was capable of being,” he said. “I’m just looking to keep pounding it in there and make it something that’s going to be longterm.”
Detroit bullpen catcher Scott Pickens worked with Miller in 2006 and ‘07.
“He definitely had some stuff and he still does,” Pickens said. “I know when he came up his delivery from college was a little bit different than kind of what it is now. ... It’s good to see him doing well.”
Pickens added that Miller’s delivery is more under control now than it had been.
Miller has stranded 25 of 28 inherited runners (89.3 percent), the second best mark among AL relievers. His 12 holds are tied for fourth among AL lefties entering last night. And he has held lefties to a .131 clip, the 5th-best mark in the AL (minimum 50 batters faced).
He hasn’t allowed a walk in nine straight outings.
Meanwhile, Miller has kept close tabs on Bard, talking with him off and on since Bard’s demotion. Bard has pitched well of late, not allowing a walk in four of his past five appearances.
“He certainly sounds like he’s got things going in the right direction,” Miller said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he will be back here soon. It certainly sounds like he’s getting everything to the point where he can come and be a key for us.”