Former phenom Miller reverts to basics

Former phenom Miller reverts to basics

Former phenom Miller reverts to basics
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The owner of mid-90s heat and a towering 6-foot-7 frame, Andrew Miller is ready to put his attributes in the face of opposing hitters.

For too long, the lefty admits, he's been consumed with mechanical adjustments and exterior noise.

Perhaps it was all the promise he had coming out of the University of North Carolina, when the Tigers made him the sixth overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. Or all the pressure he felt in the Marlins' organization, after being traded for superstar Miguel Cabrera.

Miller, now with the Boston Red Sox, is ready to just bring the heat again and see what kind of results follow.

"Throw strikes and compete, and just go out there and be aggressive," said Miller. "I'm trying to get kind of an edge back and not really worry about mechanics and just throw the ball. [Monday] was a good start."

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Yes, Monday. That was the day Miller pitched in his Boston uniform for the first time and needed just seven pitches -- six of them strikes -- to retire all three Twins hitters he faced. Two of the outs were strikeouts.

He will pitch again on Thursday against the Phillies and will try to put the same attack mentality on display.

"We're just trying to keep with the real simple fundamental things with him," said pitching coach Curt Young. "Good direction toward home. Make sure he uses his legs the right way and make sure his eyes see home plate -- just some real fundamental things. You don't want to get too detailed or too extravagant with any kind of delivery. Keep things simple and let him make a good move toward home plate."

Assuming everyone stays healthy, Miller will not be in Boston's starting rotation when camp ends. But a bullpen role could be there to win.

If he can solidify a spot, Miller would be reunited with Daniel Bard, his University of North Carolina teammate.

"We need a lefty out there, maybe two of them," said Bard. "If he's on his game, he's as good as anyone we're going to throw out there, in my opinion."

Though Bard has taken his bullpen role by storm since being converted from a starter to reliever in 2008, he remembers what it was like to struggle mightily when he first entered pro ball. And that was without being rushed to the Major Leagues like Miller was.

"I think we were kind of the same as pitchers in that we both needed to keep things real simple out there on the mound, because you just let the stuff play," Bard said. "Keep it in the zone and let the stuff [take over], basically. It took me a couple of years to learn that in pro ball.

"He was doing the same thing, but at the Major League level. He was a lot more exposed, I guess."

When Bard has watched Miller during camp, he sees the same guy who used to dominate in college and not the overwhelmed pitcher from the Marlins.

"I've seen, just from looking at mechanics, he's so much more free and easy then he was just last year," Bard said. "He looks a lot more like he did in college, just kind of out there slinging it. Get the ball and not a lot of time in between pitches. [He looks] competitive. That's the guy I'm used to seeing. I've said to a lot of people, 'When everything clicks for him, he's fun to watch.'"

Miller realizes the fun had disappeared from his game as he was constantly trying to come up with the right mechanics.

"There's certainly a place for [mechanics], and it's important and it's something you can use to your advantage, but at the same time, it's hard to worry about it while you're pitching against big league hitters," said Miller. "It's almost impossible. Your mind is in the wrong place if that's what you're thinking about."

Showing his accountability, Miller doesn't blame this on either of the organizations he was with, or the various coaches he worked with. Maybe it was the mere case of trying too hard to be good.

"It's not anybody's fault," Miller said. "Everybody I've worked with, they've had my best interest in mind. It's just, I think, a lot of it, I got in my own way. I made it harder on myself. Like I said, I was thinking about the wrong stuff while I was out there instead of just competing. So, I'm looking forward to kind of getting back to what I've done in the past that's worked for me."

The offseason was an interesting one for Miller. He was traded to the Red Sox on Nov. 12 for lefty Dustin Richardson. But on Dec. 2, he was non-tendered by Boston, meaning that he was a free agent.

"At first, it was kind of a surprising thing, and then it was a chance to wait for opportunities and see what else is out there," said Miller.

Miller felt there were better chances in other organizations to land a spot in a starting rotation. But then he thought about the well-being of his career and thought that the Red Sox, who stayed in frequent contact after the non-tender, were the best fit.

Exactly two months after being non-tendered, Miller re-signed with Boston on a Minor League deal.

"I think I could still go into a camp and compete as a starter and there are teams, they're looking for their third starter still," Miller said. "There's a lot of competition in some places. I thought about that long and hard, and ultimately I had to make the decision that this is the place that long-term would be the best fit for me.

"So far, I think I made the right decision. Everything has been great. It's kind of validated why I wanted to be a part of this organization. Everyone in the organization has been great. I couldn't have asked for a better first two or three weeks in. I'm just excited to be here and hope to keep pitching well and see what happens."

It's way too early in camp to be able to tell what will happen. There are several other lefties competing for a job, including established veterans Hideki Okajima and Dennys Reyes.

The contract Miller signed is a unique one. It contains a $3 million option for next season. If the Red Sox designate Miller for assignment and a team claims him, they would be on the hook for that 2012 option. So, in other words, there's a chance Boston could be able to reassign the lefty to Triple-A if it can't find a spot for him on the Opening Day roster.

"That's not for me to worry about," said Miller. "My job is to pitch well, and ideally you always want to make the decision tough on the organization, but in a good way. I want to be part of this organization for a long time. I feel like it's the right place for me to be, to kind of live up to what my expectations are as a player. You know, when I signed here, it wasn't a short term plan. It was more of a long-term thing."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.