BOSTON, MA - JUNE 20: Andrew Miller #30 of the Boston Red Sox throws against the San Diego Padres at Fenway Park on June 20, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Andrew Miller's June 15 opt-out clause was looming the day after he completed his fourth-straight excellent start for Triple-A Pawtucket. If the opt-out had been scheduled for a few weeks earlier, Miller likely would not have garnered any interest from outside organizations, but thanks to 26 strikeouts and just four walks in his final 25-1/3 innings, it was a guarantee that if Boston didn't give him a spot, someone else would post opt-out.
Thanks to Clay Buchholz hitting the disabled list with his back injury, and Daisuke Matsuzaka out for the year after Tommy John surgery, Boston didn't have to do any shuffling to get Miller a spot in the rotation. If his performance last night was any indication, it won't be Miller pushed out when Buchholz returns, either.
Of course, it was one start, so let's not get ahead of ourselves and declare his problems -- and any the Red Sox may have had in their rotation -- fixed. But there was a lot to like here, and reason to hope.
Miller started out strong, throwing 12 of his first 15 pitches for strikes in the first while inducing a pair of groundouts and a strikeout against the Padres. He finished the game with seven groundouts (against one flyout) and six strikeouts in 5-2/3 innings pitched. Most importantly, Miller walked just three batters, and 65 percent of his 89 pitches were strikes. His lone mistake was a homer served up to Orlando Hudson, but the pitch itself wasn't bad -- sometimes you just have to credit the hitter for a good swing -- and it would have been a two-run shot if Mike Cameron hadn't misjudged a ball in right that should have been an out.
If you saw Miller's stuff, you would be forgiven for wondering why he has had trouble attacking hitters in the strike zone in the past. His fastball sat around 93 mph on the night -- great velocity for a left-hander -- and has a natural, heavy sink to it thanks to his being 6-foot-6. He threw that for strikes 62 percent of the time, using it to set up his other offerings. While his change-up induced just a pair of swings-and-misses, he froze hitters with it again and again, throwing it for a strike 15 of the 21 times he used it. His slider was the big pitch of the night, though, as five of the 16 he threw induced whiffs, and he was able to locate it for a strike 11 times.
Walks and inefficiency have long been the bane of Miller, and the primary reason why, despite the stuff of a front line starter, he has yet to succeed in the majors. The Padres have a poor offense -- even after adjusting for pitcher-friendly Petco -- so last night was something of a soft landing for Miller. Seeing him against more potent offensive teams will be a better test -- will he still use his stuff in the strike zone against teams that could make him pay for it? -- but this was a good start on the road to repairing his reputation, and giving the Red Sox yet another weapon in the rotation.