Andrew Miller Suddenly a Key Cog in Red Sox’ Rotation, As Boston’s Pitchers Struggle to Stay Healthy

Andrew Miller Suddenly a Key Cog in Red Sox' Rotation, As Boston's Pitchers Struggle to Stay Healthy Thursday night is an important start for Andrew Miller. For the first time this season, he'll be facing an American League lineup.

Admittedly, the Baltimore Orioles are not the 1927 Yankees. Or even the 2011 Yankees. They've scored 342 runs, the fifth-fewest total in the AL. But they are a team with some pop — Mark Reynolds, Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy combined for 24 home runs in June, and the O's are now fifth in the AL in homers.

The Red Sox have been very careful with Miller so far. They eased him back into the big leagues with starts against San Diego, Pittsburgh and Houston — three teams that are a combined 33 games under .500. They figured they'd get a better idea of what Miller is capable of doing this season, and they have to be happy with his 2-0, 3.06 ERA start.

Now, with three-fifths of the Red Sox pitching rotation on the DL, Miller is no longer an experiment. He is part of this team's starting staff, and will remain so until further notice.

Miller hasn't faced an American League team in two years, when he limited the Orioles to one run and one hit in seven innings. He didn't get a decision that night, part of a disappointing three-year run with the Marlins. He went 10-20 with a 5.89 ERA during that stretch, and was ultimately traded away for Dustin Richardson this winter.

Richardson was later released by the Marlins. Miller has become an intriguing part of the Sox' staff.

The sky was the limit for Miller back in 2006, when he was named College Player of the Year after going 13-2 with a 2.48 ERA for the College World Series runners-up University of North Carolina Tar Heels. He was the sixth pick in the draft that year, going to Detroit with great expectations.

On Aug. 4, 2006, he signed a contract reportedly worth more than $5 million. Three weeks later, he made his major league debut. In Yankee Stadium.

It was a quick run to Major League Baseball. Too quick. Miller was rushed, traded to Florida as a key part of the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers, and was suddenly underachieving with the Marlins.

Now he's pitching for the Red Sox. He is very self-aware and still thinks he has not pitched his best with the team yet. He is trying to reclaim his spot in the game and prove he can be the pitcher who was once named one of the top prospects in baseball.

And he's only 26 years old.

That's the most intriguing part for Boston. With his prime baseball seasons still ahead of him, Miller could eventually become one of the greatest steals in Theo Epstein's tenure. His command, always a question mark in the National League, has been good. His 13-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio is far better than his career mark.

The Red Sox came into this season believing they could win a championship. With Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz at the top of the rotation, they might. Right now, two of those three pitchers are injured. The Sox will take the long view, the cautious approach, and will not rush Lester or Buchholz back into service. They need them for September and October — not for July.

To get to October, Terry Francona will lean heavily on other pitchers to make contributions. Tim Wakefield, for instance, is 5-2 with a 4.47 ERA since rejoining the rotation. And the Sox have won all three games started by Miller.

The young lefty may have finally found a baseball home in Boston, alongside former Tar Heels teammate Daniel Bard. The Red Sox may have found a diamond in the rough just in time to help them through another rough stretch of injury news.

Yardbarker

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