Miller vi­tal for In­di­ans in run to World Series

Out­stand­ing re­liever prov­ing to be ul­ti­mate weapon in Cleve­land run to the World Series

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ron­ald Blum

David Ross mar­vels at An­drew Miller and the break on his sin­is­ter slider.

“He’s hard to catch,” said the Chicago Cubs catcher and Miller’s team­mate in Bos­ton three years ago. “When you know he’s hard to catch, you know he’s hard to hit.”

Miller es­caped a pair of jams to pitch two score­less in­nings and help the Cleve­land In­di­ans beat the Chicago Cubs 6-0 in the World Series opener Tues­day night.

A 6-foot-7 lefty with an enor­mous wing­span, Miller has de­vel­oped base­ball’s most un­hit­table pitch. He is per­haps the big­gest fac­tor in Cleve­land’s first AL pen­nant since 1997, a throw­back will­ing to close or en­ter in the mid­dle in­nings.

“It kind of sets the tone for our mind­set as a club, just try­ing to fig­ure out a way to help your team win,” Cleve­land closer Cody Allen said.

Now 31, Miller was ac­quired from the Yan­kees on Aug. 1 for four prospects. He has thrown 22 score­less in­nings in post­sea­son play, in­clud­ing 13 2/3 in­nings with 24 strike­outs this year. He was voted AL Cham­pi­onship Series MVP, a rare setup man to gain a post­sea­son honor.

“I would say be­fore that, his re­sume is not too shabby, ei­ther,” In­di­ans man­ager Terry Fran­cona said dur­ing the series against Toronto. “There’s a rea­son we gave up what we did for him. We thought that he could be a guy that we could lever­age in sit­u­a­tions like we have. And it would make our bullpen that much bet­ter and give us a chance to keep play­ing.”

In New York, Miller was the baby-faced mem­ber of the hardthrow­ing No Runs DMC bullpen

trio that in­cluded Dellin Be­tances and Aroldis Chap­man, dealt to the Cubs on July 25.

New York’s closer in 2015, Miller em­braced his new role as Chap­man’s setup man. With Cleve­land, Fran­cona has brought him in as early as the fifth in­ning, and like an un­der­study shift­ing parts each per­for­mance, Miller rel­ishes his in­ter­change­able roles.

“The best thing that could pos­si­bly hap­pen is to be on a win­ning team, and that’s what I en­joy,” he said, his face partly ob­scured by a beard re­grown fol­low­ing his exit from the clean-cut Yan­kees. “If that re­quires me to pitch the sec­ond in­ning or the ninth in­ning or play short­stop, I don’t re­ally care. “I want to be a part of it.” Se­lected by Detroit with the sixth over­all in the 2006 am­a­teur draft, Miller strug­gled with the Tigers, Mar­lins and Red Sox, com­pil­ing a 21-29 record from 200611, when most of his ap­pear­ances were as a starter.

“The start of my ca­reer wasn’t any­thing that you’d brag about or write home about,” he said.

His ca­reer started to

change in 2012, on March 20 to be pre­cise. Bos­ton man­ager Bobby Valen­tine suggested he work from the stretch full­time to lessen the move­ment of his big frame, and Miller in­jured his left ham­string on his third pitch in an ex­hi­bi­tion game against Toronto. When Miller re­turned, he was rel­e­gated to the bullpen.

“The ham­string had a lot to do with it when you look back at it, prob­a­bly an aw­ful lot to do with it,” Valen­tine said. “He wasn’t go­ing to be able to be stretched out enough to com­pete for the start­ing role.”

Miller sim­pli­fied his reper­toire in the bullpen, ditch­ing his sinker and changeup and lim­it­ing him­self to his fast­ball and slider. He had a ca­reer-best 3.35 ERA, strik­ing out 51 in 40 1/3 in­nings.

“There were no ros­ter spots in the ro­ta­tion, and the bullpen was the way to go,” he said. “I think in hind­sight it was a re­ally good thing. It was a bless­ing in dis­guise. But you don’t know it at the time.”

Af­ter a torn lig­a­ment in his left foot caused him to miss the sec­ond half of the 2013 sea­son — and Bos­ton’s run to the World Series ti­tle — he struck out 103 in 62 1/3 in­nings the fol­low­ing year with the Red Sox and Ori­oles, who ac­quired him

at the trade dead­line.

“He was try­ing to fig­ure out him­self. He’s had some fail­ure as a starter and he strug­gled through what a lot of starters go through early in their ca­reers, and look at him now,” said Juan Nieves, Miller’s pitch­ing coach with the Red Sox in 2013 and ‘14.

“It’s a re­ally quick, sharp slider. It starts in the zone and it ends up a lot of times ei­ther a strike called or it’s in and out of the zone real quick,” he added.

Miller didn’t miss any time this sea­son de­spite break­ing a bone in his right wrist when hit by a liner off the bat of At­lanta’s Wil­lians As­tudillo dur­ing a spring train­ing game on March 30.

His dura­bil­ity has been prodi­gious and his flex­i­bil­ity vi­tal. Miller has en­tered as early as the fifth in­ning and late as the ninth over seven ap­pear­ances this post­sea­son

“It wasn’t that long ago I was pitch­ing in some long sit­u­a­tions and some­times in the eighth in­ning in close sit­u­a­tions,” Miller said. “For those guys, which are the ma­jor­ity of re­liev­ers, flex­i­bil­ity is not some­thing you of­fer, it’s some­thing you have to have.

“You don’t have a choice. If you’re not flex­i­ble, you’re not go­ing to have a spot in the big leagues.”

MATT SLOCUM — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In­di­ans re­liever An­drew Miller cel­e­brates af­ter es­cap­ing a sev­enth-in­ning jam dur­ing Cleve­land’s win over Cubs.

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