Miller: A tall pitcher with high hopes

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Miller: A tall pitcher with high hopes

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
BOSTON Left-hander Andrew Miller is scheduled to make his first start for the Red Sox Monday night against the Padres.

It will be the 80th big-league appearance for Miller, a first-round draft pick (sixth overall) by the Tigers in 2006, who made his debut less than three weeks after signing.

While Miller has pitched in the big leagues in each of the last five seasons, compiling a record of 15-26 with a 5.84 ERA, he has made nearly as many minor-league appearances (63) in that time, posting a record of 10-19 with a 3.66.

He's hoping the Red Sox, his third organization, offer him something the others havent: A chance to settle in, free of the mechanics tinkering hes been subjected to in the past, and a chance to bring to fruition the potential he has always had.

Miller was originally acquired by the Sox in a November trade with the Marlins for lefty Dustin Richardson (who was recently designated for assignment by Florida). Shortly after that, though, the Sox non-tendered Miller in the hopes of signing him to a less-expensive contract. They did just that in December, but the new deal, according to a source, gave Miller two opt-out clauses, allowing him to walk away if the Sox did not put him on the big league roster by specified dates. One of those dates was June 15 (the other was in August).

Miller, his agent, and Sox general manager Theo Epstein met on June 15 and reached an agreement that Miller would be promoted to Boston and make his Sox debut Monday against the Padres. When right-hander Clay Buchholz was placed on the disabled list Sunday, Miller was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket and activated. He arrived at Fenway Park shortly before the start of the teams series finale against the Brewers.

There really wasnt much of a decision process, Miller said. I knew there was a date coming up but that was handled. I was basically reassured by the Red Sox that good things were going to happen. They have, and just happy to still be here.

Obviously looking forward to being promoted a lot. I think Ive been pitching well lately and just looking to carry it over and do the same thing here.

Miller has been pitching well. After a tweak to his pregame warm-up routine, initiated by Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur and minor-league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel, Miller has put up impressive numbers. Sauveur suggested changing Millers pregame routine to one similar to that of Buchholz warm up early, sit down, and warm up again just before game time.

Overall, Miller has a record of 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) this season, with 61 strikeouts and 35 walks in 65 23 innings. He held batters to an International League-best .181 average.

It took him until his fourth start before he could record his first win this season. It took him until his 10th start until he earned his second 'W.' But in four starts since adjusting his pregame routine, Miller is 2-1, allowing a combined five earned runs over 25 13 innings, for a 1.78 ERA, with 26 strikeouts and just 3 walks. The only loss in that span came in his June 8 outing in Norfolk, when he allowed one earned run on five hits with no walks and three strikeouts over seven innings.

The 6-foot, 7-inch Miller, who has been plagued by control issues during his career, has allowed just one walk in his last three outings, spanning 18 13 innings. He struck out a season-high 10 batters in his last start, a no-decision June 14 against Charlotte, with one walk.

I think you certainly want to get called up when youre throwing the ball well and I think thats been the case lately, he said. So what better time? I think weve got a good program in place and just stick to it and well do the same thing here that Ive been doing down there, and go out there and pitch well.

I think its just been a combination of everything. Getting settled in, getting comfortable. I think its just a combination really of finding a place and I had a good program put in place down there and good routine. Its just carried over the success lately.

Millers fastball sits in the mid 90s and can touch the high 90s. His mechanics, he believes, are better than they have been in recent seasons.

Id like to think so, he said. I think right now Im confident the way Im throwing the ball and just looking to keep it going.

Theres a lot to like about Miller, manager Terry Francona said.

"We're hoping to see exactly what he's been doing his last four starts at Triple-A," Francona said. "One start doesn't make or break your career. But we just want to see him pound the strike zone with his good stuff. He's really done a terrific job.

Daniel Bard, Miller's teammate while both pitchers were at the University of North Carolina, is looking forward to seeing what the left-hander can do for the Sox.

I know hes been throwing the ball really well these four or five starts in Triple-A, Bard said. But Im just excited for him. Its kind of been a long road back to the big leagues for him and I know hes worked extremely hard to get back. As a friend of mine, just glad to see him personally get back, but also I think he can really help this team. Im not sure what role itll be in the long term. But hes too good to let go.

Bard is hoping the Sox can get from Miller what other teams were unable to.

Obviously the Marlins, for whatever reason, didnt want him anymore and the Red Sox saw it as a great opportunity and jumped on it, Bard said. At this point, I think its worked out really well for both sides, for Andrew and for the Red Sox. But I think the biggest thing, when they did agree to that deal in the offseason, both sides want it to be a long-term partnership. Andrew, just to be with the same organization, the Red Sox because they saw him as a big piece of their future. So, I think thats beginning of what we see this week.

Outfielder Josh Reddick played most of the season with Miller in Pawtucket and knows what the tall lefty can do.

Even when hes not on, hes a little bit wildly effective, as they call it, Reddick said. But definitely when hes on, hes going to be tough because hes got a good slider and his fastball runs up there to the mid to upper 90s. He hides his ball so well. Luckily Ive never faced him before and hopefully I wont have to do that in the near future.

Miller, though, isnt taking the future as a given, just as he never took it for granted that he would be standing on a big league mound wearing a Red Sox uniform.

Nothings guaranteed, he said. Certainly coming into the situation, not on the roster, you never know whats going to happen. You look at the rotation and the staff, everybody on the roster here, its an unbelievable team. Im just glad an opportunity has arisen but certainly nothings guaranteed.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.