FORT MYERS, Fla. — The welcome sound of a baseball hitting a catcher’s glove was particularly loud when Andrew Miller took the mound on Thursday morning.
Teammates glanced over, surprised to see somebody throwing with such force in an unofficial workout nine days before pitchers and catchers officially report for spring training. Miller threw one of his final pitches so hard that the ball sailed over the head of catcher Dan Butler and may have bruised the chain-link fence behind him.
Miller walked off the mound with a smile showing through his bushy beard.
“Guess I’m feeling pretty good,” he said.
It took seven months to get there. Miller broke a bone in his left foot July 6 in Anaheim, Calif., when he came off the mound to back up a play at the plate. One innocuous movement ended his season.
The fracture required surgery and left the 28-year-old Miller a spectator as the Red Sox went on to win the World Series. When his teammates spilled out of the dugout to celebrate series-clinching victories, Miller was the tall, lonesome figure hobbling after them.
“I didn’t have much choice, but it was tough not to be able to compete,” Miller said. “But I feel great now. Everything is fine.”
Miller arrived here on Monday and has no throwing restrictions. He has tested his foot with agility drills and some running and felt no pain.
“The last thing I really need to do is field my position again,” he said. “There will be plenty of chances to do that [in spring training]. I’m confident everything will fine.”
Miller was enjoying the best season of his career prior to the injury. In 37 appearances, he struck out 48 over 30⅔ innings, walked 17, and allowed only 25 hits. Miller was unexpectedly more effective against righthanded batters than lefthanders but established himself as a viable late-inning reliever.
His loss led to the Red Sox calling up rookie Drake Britton then trading for Matt Thornton. Eventually, Craig Breslow emerged as the team’s primary lefthander out of the bullpen. With Miller back, the Red Sox have enviable depth.
The only other concern for Miller is his salary for the coming season. Miller filed for arbitration at $2.15 million with the Red Sox countering at $1.55 million. The sides have yet to reach an agreement and have a hearing scheduled for Feb. 18.
Miller does not believe a hearing will be needed.
“Compared to most of the others, we’re not that far apart,” he said.
The Red Sox have traditionally avoided arbitration. Their last hearing was in 2002, when they triumphed against righthander Rolando Arrojo.
The Red Sox will use Breslow and closer Koji Uehara cautiously in spring training after their extra work in October. That could give Miller the opportunity to pitch late in games and hone his rusty skills.
“It’s fun to be pitching again,” he said. “This is one spring training I was really looking forward to.”
Two of the practice fields behind JetBlue Park were loaded with players on Thursday and the bullpen was busy.
More than a dozen players on the spring training roster are already in camp. Along with Miller, the group included Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jon Lester, Will Middlebrooks, and Daniel Nava.
Bradley arrived in late December just after his honeymoon. Bogaerts will wear No. 2 this season after being issued No. 72 last season. New outfielder Grady Sizemore was given No. 38.
Blake Swihart, a 21-year-old catching prospect, is in camp along with Butler, Alex Hassan, Rubby De La Rosa, and Alex Wilson.
Wilson threw in the bullpen, but not at full force. He had surgery on Oct. 26 in Cleveland to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb and was cleared to throw two weeks ago.
The surgery included the removal of a small bone and insertion of a screw to stabilize the ligament. Wilson dealt with the injury all of last season, finally succumbing to the disabled list in July.