PAWTUCKET — Andrew Miller holds the potential of emerging into a key member of Boston’s pitching plans this season — emphasis on "potential."
For someone who has been labeled a tease shortly after the Detroit Tigers selected him with the sixth overall pick in 2006, Miller is out to prove that his enigmatic ways are behind him. Something along the pitching line he delivered against Syracuse on Wednesday night at McCoy Stadium — six innings of one-run ball with two walks and three strikeouts as the Chiefs won 6-3 to snap the PawSox’ five-game winning streak — qualifies as progress. That’s because Miller is coming off back-to-back starts in which he failed to pitch into the fifth inning and average a walk per frame.
Granted the lanky lefty’s outing was anything as but crisp. The Chiefs squared up some balls that translated into some loud outs, but Miller also delivered some encouraging moments. Two of his three strikeouts came on sliders. According to the pitch speed mechanism, Miller’s fastball touched 96 mph in the second inning.
“I feel like that if I throw strikes, I have a pretty good chance. It always boils down to command,” said Miller, who finished with 72 pitches, 45 for strikes. “I felt good in my first outing. It wasn’t a mechanical issue. It was about me being too fine. I went through one bad stretch [in the second start], but I was able to get out of it. Overall (Wednesday) was pretty good.”
PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler is of the mindset that if your starting pitcher goes six frames and allows one run, you’ll gladly take it. “He was very aggressive in the zone and changed speeds pretty well. He threw a lot of strikes and got some good outs on his fastball and I think that made his other stuff effective. He threw a nice ballgame.”
The Red Sox are viewing Miller along the line as a long-range project. Signed to a minor-league deal after being acquired from Florida in the offseason, Miller spent most of spring training as a reliever. It wasn’t until big-league camp broke that he started to make the transition to starting.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that if you’re pitching well, good things will happen,” Miller said. “I’m in a different situation. I’m not on the [40-man] roster and I don’t have any options. The situation for me to go up [to Boston] is probably a little bit different than for other guys. For me, I’m just trying to go out there and throw the ball as well as I can and give us a chance to win.”
A 5-4-3 double play allowed Miller to get out of harm’s way in the top of the first, an inning that saw him allow a walk and hit a batter. The only inning he did allow a baserunner was the third. He mentioned that he only threw his slider on a couple of occasions, choosing instead to attack Syracuse was fastballs and changeups.
“He was around the plate, and when you’re around the plate and working ahead, you’re going to be pretty effective,” said Beyeler.
Miller was in line for the win when he departed, as his team was up, 3-1. He turned the game over to Pawtucket’s normally sure-handed bullpen, but the seventh inning got off to a rocky start as Lars Anderson had a grounder go through his legs at first base. The miscue loomed even larger as PawSox reliever Tony Pena Jr. was victimized for a game-tying two-run homer against the next hitter up, Syracuse’s Jhonatan Solano. Daniel Nava made a leaping bid to take away Solano’s blast, but the shot barely dipped over the left fielder’s glove before landing in the bullpen.
Pena Jr. retired the next two Chiefs before running into trouble again. A single and stolen base by Roger Bernadina was rewarded by a base knock by Brian Bixler. That capped off a three-run frame for the visitors.
Wednesday also proved that Rich Hill is, indeed, human. After not allowing an earned run this year (17 1/3 innings, which includes spring training), Hill was tagged for two runs in the eighth.
Pawtucket scored three runs in the opening four frames but could have easily struck for more had two runners not been gunned down at third base. One of the culprits was Ryan Kalish, who after doubling in a run in the fourth inning was erased on a bid to tag up on a fly ball to right field.
“Sometimes we’re going to be overaggressive and run ourselves out of some innings,” said Beyeler, also the third base coach. “If we end up winning the game, nobody says anything about it. But we gave (Syracuse) some outs.”