By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Only recently, the Red Sox' starting rotation seemed to be stabilizing.
Daisuke Matsuzaka may have been lost for the remainder of the season thanks to Tommy John surgery, but John Lackey has returned from a DL stint to win his last two starts and the venerable Tim Wakefield, essentially taking Matsuzaka's spot, has pitched well enough that the team is 4-2 in his outings.
By Wednesday, however, things could change again.
Left-hander Andrew Miller has a June 15 opt-out in his deal, meaning he can become a free agent if the team doesn't add him to the major league roster.
It's possible that Miller, who is scheduled to start Tuesday for Pawtucket, could force the Red Sox' hand and be added to the rotation, sending Wakefield back to the bullpen.
A former first-round pick in 2006, Miller has always had terrific stuff, but his control since first getting to the big leagues months after being drafted has been, to be kind, inconsistent.
Lately, however, Miller has been far more around the strike zone. Over his last two starts for Pawtucket, Miller has thrown 13 innings, striking out 12 and walking none. Dating back to his last three starts, Miller has walked just two in his last 20 innings.
In 12 games, Miller is 3-3 with a 2.54 ERA. In 60 13 innings, he's struck out 51 and walked 34. Opponents are hitting just .175 against him.
"Even earlier in the season,'' noted Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen, "it was command (within the zone) rather than control. He got in a lot of deep counts and he wasn't winning those. Now, he's putting the ball right where he wants. The continued development of his delivery is allowing him to be more consistent within the strike zone.''
Miller is tall (6-foot-7) and lanky, and like Randy Johnson and other tall, gangly pitchers, there are, at times, too many moving parts to Miller's delivery. But he's been using his athleticism to repeat his delivery more consistently.
The stuff -- a fastball that is regularly 95-96 mph, and a sharp slider -- has never been in question. In his last start, last Wednesday against Norfolk, Miller recorded double-digit groundouts, evidence that he his two-seam fastball is helping him be more efficient and economical.
"There's been steady improvement over the last three or four starts,'' said Hazen. "What he's shown us in that span is very impressive.''
Credit for Miller's improvement is shared by major league pitching coach Curt Young -- who worked with Miller during spring training -- Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur and roving pitching instructor Ralph Treuel.
Officially, the Red Sox haven't heard anything further from Miller or his agent regarding Wednesday's deadline. Privately, they're braced for Miller to force their hand.
Said one personnel evaluator who has seen Miller pitch more than once this season: "He's a left-hander who's throwing 96. I've got to believe that there's got to be one team out there willing to offer him a spot in their rotation.''
That's all Miller needs to prompt the Red Sox to add him to their 40-man roster and promote him to Boston. Coincidentally or not, Miller is now lined up perfectly with Wakefield, meaning that, if the Sox promote him Wednesday, Miller would be lined up to pitch when Wakefield's turn next comes around: Sunday at home vs. Milwaukee.
Things could get complicated if Miller joins the Red Sox, then, for whatever reason, has to be sent back to Pawtucket. The 26-year-old is out of options, meaning he would have to be exposed to waivers before the Red Sox could outright him back to Triple A.
(During the off-season, the Red Sox attempted to structure a unique contract, whereby any team claiming Miller would be forced to pick up a 3 million option for 2012 -- his major salary for 2011 would be a more modest 1.3 million -- but there were objections from the commissioner's office and the Players Association and the language had to be re-written to fall in line with proper contractual guidelines.)
In a perfect world, the Red Sox would keep Miller at Triple A and allow him to pitch more innings in a controlled environment.
But the fact that Miller is forcing their hand can be viewed positively, too, since it's an indication of how well he's been throwing, and by extension, the interest other teams likely have in him.