Since he was drafted out of the University of North Carolina by the Tigers with the sixth overall pick in 2006, Andrew Millers potential has tantalized many observers, evaluators, and pitching coaches. But the results seemed to stay just out of the reach of delivering on that potential.
Prior to 2012, Miller had appeared in 96 major league games, making 66 starts, for the Tigers, Marlins, and Red Sox, posting a record of 21-29 with a 5.79 ERA. In 2011, his first season with the Sox after being acquired in an offseason trade with the Marlins, he made 17 appearances, with 12 starts, posting a record of 6-3 with a 5.54 ERA.
But Miller, who turns 28 in May, started the 2012 season on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring that allowed him to make just three appearances in spring training. He appeared in 12 games, making one start, for Single-A Greenville and Triple-A Pawtucket before being activated on May 6. But what the Sox could expect from the 6-foot-7 left-hander was unknown.
Except for his debut season of 2006, when he made eight relief appearances for Detroit, 2012 was the only one of his seven major league seasons in which he worked strictly out of the bullpen. The results? A record of 3-2 with a career-best 3.35 ERA in a career-high 53 games. His 1.190 WHIP, 6.2 hits-per-nine innings ratio, 4.5 walks-per-nine, 11.4 strikeouts-per-nine, 2.55 strikeouts-to-walks, and opponents average of .194 were all also the best of his career.
Miller held opponents hitless in 31 outings, scoreless in 43, and had 22 perfect outings. Lefties hit just .149 (13-for-87) against him, with a .245 on-base percentage, and .184 slugging percentage, while righties hit .263 (15-for-57) with a .373 OBP and .456 SLG.
He stranded 39 of 46 inherited runners, a success rate of 84.8 percent, fifth-best in the American League, and retired the first batter he faced in 45 of his 53 appearances, giving up four hits and four walks with 16 strikeouts.
Perhaps, in his seventh big league season, Miller had found his role.
I think for me last year was a learning experience and I enjoyed it, Miller said. It wasnt the season we envisioned, but for me it was a step forward, I think. Whatever they ask me to do, Ill be ready, and I think theres certainly things I can improve upon. Thats that Im going to show and prove that I have, that Im ready to do that. Whatever role they put me in, I want to show that Im ready to go.
For some pitchers, giving up on the idea of being a starting pitcher can be difficult. But, while Miller believes he is still capable of starting, for now thats not the issue.
I dont know if Id say starting is my preference, Miller said. My preference is to be good at this level. I think that's kind of overlooked a lot of times. Im not in the position to demand or ask for anything. I just want to be part of the team and help us win a lot of games. Whatever role they ask me to do is fine. I think clearly its to be in the bullpen again this year.
If at some point down the road that starting opportunity comes up again, Ill have to evaluate it and see whats best for me or the team, or whatever. Whatever side of the court the balls in, I dont know. But in reality its something that Im still capable of doing. I enjoy doing it. I think that, you know, I certainly struggled there for a couple of years but I think Im going in the right direction. Its something I could get back to.
Miller, who began throwing a few weeks ago and said he is on schedule for reporting to Fort Myers, is not quite a lefty specialist despite his numbers against left-handers last season. But, of his 53 appearances, he entered to face one batter in 13. Of those 13 appearances, 12 were against left-handed hitters. Miller recorded outs in 12 of those 13 instances, including four strikeouts and a double play. The only non-lefty he faced in those instances was the Rays switch-hitting pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad, who singled off Miller on July 13.
With fellow lefties Craig Breslow and Franklin Mortensen also expected to be in the Sox bullpen in 2013 Miller is not sure what his exact role will be this year. The Sox have added relievers closer Joel Hanrahan and right-hander Koji Uehara to the bullpen mix this offseason.
We certainly at times showed that we got some pretty arms down there last year, Miller said. I think if were healthy, hopefully Andrew Baileys back and ready to go. We know he can do it. I think weve got the pieces down there, now its a matter of us doing our job and I think were capable of it. Im excited to meet the new guys and work in with them. Hopefully everybody shows up ready to go because I think we can be really good.
And, continuing his progression last season, there are things he still wants to work on.
I think last year was the first time Ive really had a role in the bullpen, he said. So some things I did a good job of, coming in and getting the first guy out or dealing with inherited runners. But I think Id like to get righties out at a better clip and obviously I can still cut down on some walks. I had some walks at the end of the year that kind of hurt me. I think you can always improve in those departments. But those really stood out to me last year and I think I know how to fix them and thats my goal, to fix them.