PAWTUCKET – Andrew Miller is proof that it’s never too late to turn things around. At the season’s onset the lanky lefty was viewed as the ultimate redemption project, a pitcher who had spent the better portion of his career mixing promise with underwhelming results.
The fact Miller is lined up to take the mound next Monday at Fenway Park against San Diego illustrates the strides he’s made in two-plus months with the PawSox. The guy who posted unsightly totals over parts of five seasons with Detroit and Florida – 15-26 with an ERA approached six – is no longer entered into the discussion. Miller is brimming with confidence, no doubt stemming from the roll he’s been on in recent weeks – five earned runs over his last 25 1/3 innings with 26 strikeouts and three walks.
Such a turnabout of events begs the question that Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur wanted no part of. How much credit should Sauveur take in Miller’s success?
The short answer? None whatsoever.
“I’ll never take credit for anybody,” Sauveur said, dismissing the question as if it was a frivolous thought. “It’s the player who has to do the corrections. All I do is help and tell him what do here or what to do there. As a pitching coach, I love to watch my kids make it to the big leagues and do well. In the long run it’s about them; they have to make the adjustments and be able to execute pitches. It’s not me.”
If turnabout is fair play, then perhaps Miller should thank Clay Buchholz for introducing Sauveur to the concept of altering one’s pre-game routine. The topic was broached last month in Toledo as Miller stood at the crossroads of watching another unfulfilled season go by. Too many outings had transpired in which high walk totals would force Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler to pull the plug long before the 26-year-old desired.
“I told him that when Buchholz was (in Pawtucket), he had a routine in which he would play long toss in the outfield, get on the [bullpen] mound, get warm and hot, then sit,” Sauveur explained Thursday afternoon. “Clay would sit for 4-5 minutes, then get up and throw a certain amount of pitches.
“I told Miller, ‘Why don’t we throw an inning in the bullpen?’ He was willing to try it,” Sauveur continued. “That first day in Toledo, we did just that. He threw 20-something pitches and sat down for 4-5 minutes. He got back up and threw 24 pitches. He went into the game and he was ready. He liked it and was really positive.”
At long last, there were signs of a breakthrough. Sauveur phoned the good news to Red Sox roving pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel, which led to this reply: stick to what works.
“Nobody thought this was the answer, but Andrew wanted to make sure [he warmed up in the same fashion] again,” said Sauveur. “We did it again and boom, there it is.”
Sauveur noted that Miller’s development wasn’t atypical, which could explain why there have been so many ebbs and flows, starts followed by grinding stops. Miller had all of three minor league appearances under his belt when Detroit summoned him late in the 2006 season. Such a rapid ascension resulted in him being reclassified, as Miller was no longer a pitcher who could afford to make glaring omissions. He was seen as a star-in-waiting. Anything less would be considered a disappointment.
“The things I heard is that he got to the big leagues and had to figure it out there, too,” Sauveur said. “Let’s look at the reality. Everybody else has had two or three years of developing in the minors, learning how to pitch and how to correct themselves. He didn’t do that.
“In the big leagues they may look and see that he’s only got a handful of appearances in the minors and realize that that he still needs to be developed up there,” Sauveur added. “They throw him in the fire and they expect him to win.”
That said, Sauveur undoubtedly believes that Miller benefited from his time in Pawtucket. Miller was afforded the chance to work his way up the ladder, knowing full well that his pending start with the Red Sox wouldn’t even be an option unless he harnessed the gifts that made him the sixth overall pick in the country.
“I think the development he’s received has done wonders for the kid,” said Sauveur.