By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
BOSTON Making his debut for the Red Sox, facing the Padres June 20, left-hander Andrew Miller recorded wins in three of his first four outings, while the Sox won all four. Jon Lester was the last Sox lefty to go unbeaten in his first four starts, going 5-0 in his first nine starts from June 10 July 23, 2006.
But that may be where the comparisons end for the two left-handers this season.
Getting off to a 4-1 start, with a 4.65 ERA entering Tuesdays game against the Royals at Fenway Park, Millers lone loss came against the Rays, when he gave up seven runs in 2 23 innings on July 15. His wins have come against the Pirates, Astros, and Orioles twice teams that have a combined winning percentage of .463 (120-139). The Rays (36-31) and Pirates (39-37) are the only teams he has faced with winning records.
Add the Royals to the list of teams Miller has now faced with sub-.500 records. Facing the American League Centrals last place team, Miller lasted just 3 23 innings, giving up seven runs (just five earned, courtesy of his own error) on nine hits and two walks with one strikeout and one home run.He threw 80 pitches, 43 for strikes, at 53.7 percent, below the generally accepted level of 60 percent.
Miller was not involved in the decision, as the Sox offense erupted for eight runs after he was knocked out of the game, on their way to 13-9 win over the Royals. His ERA, though, climbed nearly a run, from 4.65 to 5.45 in his outing.
When the Sox signed Miller as a free agent in December, after acquiring him in a trade with the Marlins in November, they knew he would be a project. The former 2006 first-round pick (sixth overall) of the Tigers out of North Carolina offered promise that had yet to come to fruition. Tall and lanky, Miller is often said to have many moving parts in his delivery. The Sox believed if they could unlock that promise, the left-hander could be a key member of their pitching staff.
He has yet to show he can do that, though, against the heavy hitters of the AL. Or even against the not-so-heavy hitters. In four starts against the Orioles twice, the Rays, and the Royals, Miller has gone a combined 17 innings, giving up 17 runs, 15 earned, on 22 hits and 17 walks, with four strikeouts and three home runs. That gives him an AL record of 2-1 with a 7.94 ERA, 2.29 WHIP, and 0.26 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. He has not gone six innings in any of those starts, averaging just over four. His only AL loss is against the Rays, the only AL team he has faced with a winning record.
Against the Royals on Tuesday, he dug himself an early hole, allowing two runs in the first. After the Sox offense got the runs back in the home half of the first, Miller again allowed the Royals to put two more on the board in the second.
With the Sox leading by a run in the fourth, Miller again allowed the Royals to go ahead on a two-run homer by Alex Gordon and a solo homer by Billy Butler with one out. After Eric Hosmer flied out, Millers outing was done.
He didnt locate his fastball very well, manager Terry Francona said. He threw some good changeups but he just missed. And then he just didnt follow catcher Jason Variteks glove very much. Velocity was good. The ball came out of his hand really nice, actually stayed in his delivery pretty well. Just didnt throw the ball where he wanted to.
For Varitek, it is difficult to see a pattern to Millers inconsistency.
Its hard to really tell, Varitek said. He had a good outing last outing. The Royals, give these guys a little credit. They swung the bats well and didnt miss many mistakes. When you limit the amount of mistakes you make with quality pitches then things are in your favor most of the time.
Miller is winless in three career starts against the Royals, with an 11.08 ERA. Kansas Citys nine hits Tuesday are the most Miller has allowed in an outing this season.
I think his stuffs good, said Royals manager Ned Yost. But, I think he struggles, like we did tonight, with his command some. He pitches behind in the count some but I like his stuff.
Miller, though, was not satisfied. After Mondays 14-inning game, in which the bullpen combined to pitch 8 23 innings, it would have been beneficial if Miller had gone deeper into the game.
I didnt walk that many guys, I guess, for how long I was out there, he said. But still was behind in the count and up in the zone. Not going to be out there long if youre doing that, unfortunately. I knew coming in to this after Monday night it was my job to pitch deep into the game and didnt do a good job of that tonight. Fortunately Alfredo Aceves was able to come in and pick up a lot of slack. I just wasnt very good.
I felt like I just seemed to dig myself a hole for every at-bat and trying to come back 2-0 and 3-1 turns into a lot of hits, and long innings, and thats what youre trying to avoid.
Miller is at a loss to explain his recent stretch.
Right now, whether its the season-high six walks in the last game against Baltimore on July 20, basically probably got lucky to get through that or just getting behind in the count Tuesday. Successful pitchers pitch ahead in the count. Im not doing that right now.
With the July 31 trading deadline approaching, and with Clay Buchholz on the disabled list, Daisuke Matsuzaka out for the season after Tommy John surgery, and John Lackey battling inconsistency, Millers performance may affect the Sox approach over the next few days.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen.