Dan Hoard, announcer for the Pawtucket Red Sox, discussed Andrew Miller in his latest post for the MLB Blogs Network. There hasn't been much discussion about what exactly brought about the change in Miller's performance in his last few starts, as everyone has seen the tremendous shift in walk rate and could see something was different, but Hoard mentions an intriguing item:
Since altering his pre-game routine to pitch a simulated inning in the bullpen, Andrew has posted a 1.80 ERA in 4 outings with 3 walks and 26 strikeouts in 25.1 IP.
"I go out with (pitching coach) Rich Sauveur maybe 10 or 15 minutes earlier than most guys would and get loose like you would before the game," Miller said. "Then I sit down with Rich and the catcher and do a mini half-inning where we sit down for 4 or 5 minutes and talk and maybe go over the lineup a little bit. Then I get up and try to simulate game speed and simulate hitters and maybe work out some kinks that generally I've had to battle in the first inning. By the time I go out and pitch in the real first inning, it feels like it would in the second or third inning. So far it's been great. I think it's accomplished everything we were hoping it would, and I've gone out there and felt aggressive and in the zone to start the game."
Miller's issue has always been that he nibbles and fails to attack hitters in the strike zone with his stuff. This has led to high walk rates, and hitters often knowing that he is being forced to throw a strike in certain counts -- that, of course, has led to many hits and homers for the opposition over the years. This extra preparation before a game -- preparation that basically reminds Miller of what it is he is supposed to be doing as a pitcher -- may be just the kind of "attack the hitters, don't nibble" repetitive reminder that Miller has needed for years.
He has seen success in the short time he has been doing this, a fact that will hopefully lead to him continuing to prepare like this. Big league hitters are a different breed than those in Triple-A, but just like hitters can adjust to 100 mph fastballs if they see them enough, Miller can figure out how to succeed in the majors -- as long as he sticks with what has made him productive, and stays prepared.
He will get his first shot Monday night against the Padres at Fenway Park. Watch to see how he sets up hitters, and if he is nibbling. The more wasted and tentative pitches you see, the less likely it is Miller will succeed.