FORT MYERS, Fla. — Andrew Miller had all the makings of a first-round bust before getting traded to the Boston Red Sox in November 2010. Then, something clicked.
Miller struggled in his brief major league stint with Boston in 2011, posting a 5.54 ERA in 17 appearances (12 starts). But the Red Sox converted Miller into a full-time reliever in 2012, and the transition worked wonders, largely because the left-hander finally had a defined responsibility.
“That was the first year I’ve ever been in the role of being in the bullpen full time. It wasn’t just being ditched out there for a week or a month — or something like that — or waiting until my next start (in) September when you’re not really pitching consistently,” Miller said at JetBlue Park on Monday. “But I had been out there and hadn’t had a role or settled into that kind of a job (before 2012). To me, I think the biggest thing was getting out there, and getting regular repetitions (in the bullpen) was good for me.”
Miller was one of Boston’s few bright spots in 2012. He posted a career-best 3.35 ERA and compiled a career-high 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 53 relief appearances. More importantly, the lefty showed increased aggressiveness, evidenced by his career-low 4.5 walks per nine innings.
Miller continued his upward trend in 2013, emerging as one of Boston’s most reliable relievers early in the year before suffering a season-ending foot injury in July. The 28-year-old had a 2.64 ERA in 30 2/3 innings over 37 appearances at the time of his injury, and his strikeout rate stood at an impressive 14.1 per nine innings — the second-highest mark among major league relievers with at least 30 innings pitched (behind Aroldis Chapman’s 15.8 strikeouts per nine innings).
“To have him 100 percent healthy, a guy you can go to with men on base for a strikeout, provided he picks up where he left off, that is a huge weapon,” Farrell said last week of Miller. “We saw it a number of times. It didn’t really matter where we were in the lineup, who we were attacking, he’s got stuff to get really any hitter out in the league.”
Miller’s transformation is stunning given the depths to which he fell with the Detroit Tigers and Florida Marlins after being drafted sixth overall by the Tigers in 2006. But Miller seemingly has a newfound confidence, and Farrell said recently that the southpaw could be a ninth-inning option in 2014 on days when closer Koji Uehara isn’t available.
“On paper, just like we’ve had the last couple of years, we’ve got a really formidable bullpen,” Miller said Monday. “I think wherever there’s slack to be picked up, we’ll be capable of doing it.”
It’s funny how things work out after a change of scenery sometimes.