The Red Sox signed Andrew Miller with a long-term vision for him. Perhaps he could be of assistance out of the bullpen in 2011, maybe a member of the rotation in 2012 and possibly, if he fulfills his potential, a fixture after that. Who knows? There may have been an image of Miller as a front-end starter down the road.
Miller still has a ways to go before he is a rock in the rotation, but he's providing loads of short-term assistance for Boston, all in the midst of a playoff push. That's a pretty solid early return, and with every step forward those visions of grandeur become a bit more believable.
In his finest outing as a Red Sox, Miller tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings to lead his first-place team to a 6-0 win over the Texas Rangers. In two starts since rejoining the rotation, both on the road and both against formidable offenses, Miller is 2-0 with a 0.77 ERA. Boston is now 9-1 in games that he starts.
After many uneven outings in the past, it was a complete effort for the former first-round pick.
"We've always seen innings or glimpses, but tonight he just kept repeating against a really good lineup," manager Terry Francona said. "Kept them off balance, took the sting out of their bat. Threw strikes with all three pitches. He was efficient. It was fun to watch."
A starter is at his most valuable when he shuts down the opponent after his team scores. Miller displayed that value through the incredible efficiency that Francona alluded to. There was an eight-pitch first that came after Adrian Gonzalez had homered to start the scoring, and a 13-pitch third after Gonzalez went deep again.
Following Jarrod Saltalamacchia's two-run blast in the top of the fourth, Miller needed 10 pitches to cruise through the bottom half. The southpaw threw seven in the fifth.
Overall, Miller threw 51 of his 83 pitches for strikes, a respectable 61.4 percent rate that was good enough to produce six strikeouts against two walks. That continues what just might be the most promising aspect of Miller's resurgence.
In his first seven starts, Miller struck out only 17 men while walking 24. In his last three outings, he has struck out 17 but walked just five. Rangers slugger and reigning MVP Josh Hamilton was a strikeout victim three times Thursday night, twice on a slider and once on a heater.
Miller said that his arsenal, all of which was around the zone, was at its best.
"I think it was a pretty good mix," he said. "It's a lot easier to pitch that way. I was able to get some outs on changeups, get some outs on breaking balls. If it came down to it, the fastball was pretty good. I can't really point to any one pitch, it was all there tonight."
The question is: Will it all be there on another night next week? Miller is lined up to pitch Thursday at home against the New York Yankees, but Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield are also options. Francona has yet to announce his plans for the rotation beyond Sunday.
Miller had been seen as a spot starter that enabled the rotation's big guns to just get an extra day of rest. But with his sudden show of promise, perhaps Miller forces Francona's hand and keeps this a six-man rotation for another turn or two.
Miller's Red Sox career has come in stages. There were three solid starts against weak National League teams that came with a tiny asterisk due to the quality of opponent. There was a run of mediocrity and inconsistency in a July that saw him post a 3-1 record but a 6.28 ERA. Then there were 18 days in the bullpen, during which he made just two appearances. And now the lefty has staked a claim for a rotation spot going forward with two outings that border on dominant.
Those phases may simply be part of the process as Miller becomes whatever he is meant to become for the Red Sox. As it is, the short-term contributions from a long-term "project" are pretty darn good.
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