By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When the Red Sox promoted Andrew Miller from Pawtucket last month, they knew there would be nights like Friday night.
Nights when Miller can't command the strike zone as well as he'd like. Nights when Miller not only walks too many (five), but consistently falls behind and has to pitch in hitter's counts.
In his first four starts, Miller displayed improving control, walking 11 in his first 22 23 innings, but only once more than three in any one start.
There were signs, however, that Friday wasn't going to be his night. He walked two of the first three hitters in the first inning, and one scored.
And in the second, he walked another to help load the bases, setting the stage for a grand slam by Ben Zobrist, leading to a 9-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
"The walks really hurt,'' acknowledged Terry Francona." The strike-to-walk ratio (85 pitches, 51 strikes) wasn't horrible, but all of the balls (he threw) were bunched together. That's a tough way to pitch.''
Indeed, Miller was gone after just 2 23 innings, forcing the Sox to use four relievers to cover the final 5 13 innings.
"I pitched around the plate,'' said Miller, "but I got behind in counts, threw pitches up in the zone and you can't be successful that way.''
Miller maintained that the off-night wasn't the result of any sort of mechanical flaw.
"To be honest with you, I actually felt pretty good about where the ball was going,'' Miller said. "I just think I found myself in counts, in a lot of deep counts. I've got to do a better job attacking the zone insteading of trying to hit the corners.''
A more aggressive approach, in other words, may have cut down on walks and changed the outcome.
In needing 85 pitches to get just eight outs, Miller put himself in a tough position, with his pitch count climbing early.
"I'm not doing it on purpose,'' he said, "but it seemed like I'm just missing off the plate or hitting the corner. What got me back here (to the big leagues) is being aggressive in the strike zone and I'm not doing that right now. I've got to do a better job (with that).
"To me, it seems like I'm kind of nibbling and finding myself in counts. These guys are good enough that when they're ahead in the count, they're going to tattoo the ball pretty good.''
Pitching coach Curt Young echoed the same sentiment and said pitching consistently from behind was what doomed Miller.
"He's been throwing the ball good...he's been solid,'' Young said. "Tonight was (about) not being ahead and not a lot of early outs.''