EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 21, 2013

Red Sox headline that never was

Reliever Miller boasts eye-popping strikeout rate

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — The Red Sox offseason leading into the 2011 season was filled with monster headlines:

Red Sox sign Carl Crawford to 7-year, $142-million deal.

Boston swings deal for All-Star Adrian Gonzalez.

But sometimes the transactions that receive only a quick mention at the end of a notes column are the best ones.

That was the case that offseason. Gonzalez and Crawford are gone. But one southpaw hurler remains.

Yes, a trade for Marlins lefty Andrew Miller for southpaw Dustin Richardson ended up being the most significant transaction that offseason. Actually, Miller was non-tendered by the Red Sox after they traded for him but they quickly re-signed him.

Richardson hasn’t pitched in a single major league game since the trade.

Meanwhile, Miller has an eye-popping strikeout rate of 14.9 per nine innings this year and has been a reliable member of Boston’s bullpen since May of last season.

The left-hander got off to a shaky start this year with a 4.76 ERA, 6 walks and 10 strikeouts over 5.2 innings in April.

He’s been outstanding since. He entered last night with a 2.77 ERA while striking out 43 in 26.0 innings. The lone negative is 14 walks.

“I think we all start the year a little amped up and a little overexcited,” Miller said. “And you just want to settle in as quick as you can. I think it took me a few games. I think it helps to pitch regularly. The more I get out there, the more likely I am to stay locked in.”

The best move the Red Sox could have made was moving Miller permanently from starter to reliever. He has found his command by pitching more frequently.

The sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft, Miller had a 5.70 ERA in 66 career starts and had issued 182 walks in 325.0 innings.

Since becoming a full-time reliever, his walk totals and ERA have gone way down.

Manager John Farrell was extremely impressed with how Miller threw over the weekend in Baltimore. Miller pitched 3.2 scoreless innings over two games, striking out six, walking two and allowing two hits. In one of the games, 18 of his 21 pitches were strikes.

Farrell said there is no reason Miller couldn’t become an Aroldis Chapman type. He is a strikeout king (15.7 per nine innings) and one of the game’s most effective closers.

“The stretch of time now that (Miller) has pitched with the dominance of two pitches — and it comes down to the consistent strike throwing,” Farrell said. “What makes his added responsibility more likely is his ability to get right-handers out — and very good right-handers. And that’s been very encouraging.”

Miller surprisingly is better against right-handers. He has held them to just a .149 average this year. Lefties are hitting .280 against him.

“Being a starter pretty much my whole career until last year, I’ve seen plenty of righties and had to get a lot of righties out,” Miller said. “So I have had to come up with ways to pitch to them and I feel comfortable facing them.” Miller has thrown his fastball 56.9 percent of the time at an average speed of 94.8 mph this season, according to fangraphs.com. He also mixes a slider that averages 85.4 mph.

“Being a left-hander, I feel like I’m going to face a lot of left-handed hitters,” Miller said. “But any time I can show them my success against righties that gives them more options on when to use me.”

STRIKEOUT KINGS The relievers who led MLB in strikeouts per nine innings (as of Wednesday): Reliever Team K/9 IP Al Alburquerque Tigers 16.3 14.1 Aroldis Chapman Reds 15.7 31.0 Jason Grilli Pirates 15.4 31.2 Andrew Miller Red Sox 14.9 26.0 Greg Holland Royals 14.2 26.0