He didn’t revolutionize relief pitching, nor did he modernize it.
But there’s no denying that Terry Francona’s usage of Andrew Miller last postseason has made teams think about their bullpens in the future.
Francona used the tall lefthander as early as the fifth inning during the Indians’ World Series run last October, and Miller’s success certainly made people in baseball rethink how high-caliber relievers are used, and how a team’s best reliever shouldn’t necessarily be its closer.
Baseball may trending back toward the late-game, multi-inning relief ace, a role Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter perfected in the 1970s and ’80s.
Miller pitched 19⅓ innings over 10 appearances last postseason, a taxing workload by today’s standards. He shut down the Red Sox in the ALDS and then the Blue Jays in the ALCS, winning series MVP. He finally wore down in the World Series against the Cubs, allowing three runs, two in Game 7. He was never used in a save situation.
“I think a lot was made out of a little there,” Miller said Thursday afternoon in Fort Myers, Fla. “I had such a blast pitching last year and pitching in as many games as I did and in the role I was used. A lot of guys would have done the same thing if that opportunity had come up.
“It was a heck of a run and it was fun to be a part of it, but I don’t think that I can take any credit for the way relievers are used or pitching or anything like that. I think it was a situation I would have happily taken.”
Francona has said he won’t use Miller in such a way during the regular season. He did it, in part, because he had a short starting rotation because of injuries to Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. The Indians needed Miller to pitch the innings Francona deemed most important. The strategy worked tremendously.
But Miller agrees that it would be hard to sustain that usage in the regular season.
“To that extent I would have been on pace for like 200 innings as a reliever,” Miller said. “I don’t think we’re going to see that guy anymore, but I think we’re going to see the multiple-innings reliever. I don’t know how long it will take, we might be five years away from the 40-appearance, 80-inning reliever or something like that, but I can see it happening.
“I just think you’re going to have to see guys buying into it at a younger age at the minor league level. I think there are so many smart people looking into all of these numbers now that if they find a way to do it better, and better doesn’t always mean better result, there might be health reasons involved. I think we’re all for guys pitching longer and healthier. If you can get guys to buy into it that way, you change the usage in the bullpen. It would be naive to think it’s going to stay the same and we’re stuck in it the way it is.”
Miller, 31, went 10-1 with a 1.45 ERA and 0.686 WHIP last season, pitching 74⅓ innings over 70 games. He pitched multiple innings only three times in 44 appearances with the Yankees, but with Cleveland he was used for more than one inning eight times in 26 regular-season games and in all 10 playoff appearances.
Using your best reliever to escape mid-game jams isn’t anything new. The Red Sox used to employ Daniel Bard in that way. But the use of relievers has become structured to the point where everyone has one role, for one inning. This was born and bred in the minors as well. But that’s changing. The Red Sox are trying to get multiple innings out of Joe Kelly and Robbie Ross Jr. and even Matt Barnes. They’re trying to create that length.
Some would say Miller is more accepting of a non-closer role because he’s making closer money — he’s halfway through a four-year, $36 million deal. Why not do what he’s asked to do?
Miller is sacrificing part of his spring training to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
He’s always wanted to represent his country, and it was a chance to reunite with his former skipper in Detroit, Jim Leyland, who is managing the US squad.
“One of the best managers there is probably in the history of the game,” Miller said. “Any time you have a chance to be around someone like that, it’s a lot of fun and a good experience.”
Miller was a rookie when Leyland began managing the Tigers in 2006. The lefty was the sixth overall draft pick that year, out of the University of North Carolina. He made a few poor bullpen appearances in 2006, then struggled as a starter in 2007 (5.63 ERA). Then-GM Dave Dombrowski included Miller in a package of prospects that landed Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in a trade with Florida.
“I had no idea what was going on then,” Miller said. “I didn’t play well but I hoped it would pay off down the road, and that was certainly the case.
“You have a manager [Leyland] like that; he’s so positive, and sometimes you need a kick in the butt and sometimes you need a pat on the back, and he was so good at that.”
Miller continued to struggle in Florida but turned his career around after signing with the Red Sox in 2011. Bobby Valentine made him a full-time reliever in 2012 and Miller took off from there. He was a key player on the 2013 championship team (2.64 ERA in 37 games) before suffering a season-ending foot injury in early July.
“I couldn’t have ended up in a better place for me,” Miller said of the Red Sox. “I loved my time here. I wound up in a World Series even though I didn’t get to pitch. I got to play with some of the best players in the game and refocus my career on what was important. I’m very appreciative of that and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”
Apropos of something
1. Adam Jones is one of the more articulate players in baseball, and he doesn’t like some current trends in the game. He hates the fact so many scouts have lost their jobs to analytics types. “They’ve been replaced by people who don’t know the game,” he said. Jones also took offense to Baseball Prospectus’s prediction that the Orioles would win 73 games. “One of the things they don’t measure is what’s in our clubhouse,” he said. “The camaraderie, the closeness we have as a team is off the charts. That’s what doesn’t show up in those numbers. I think we have a very good team. We have one of the best bullpens in baseball. We have a good rotation. I expect we’re going to be a very good team.”
2. Asked if working with Team USA has made him reconsider managing again, Jim Leyland took less than a second to answer. “No. I’m 72 and I still am involved in the game a little bit, which I really like, but I have absolutely no interest,” he said. “I didn’t even know I’d be doing this, but I can assure you I won’t be doing games after this. It’s a great opportunity and a great honor and one you couldn’t turn down. This is an absolute thrill for me. I’ve managed a lot of teams but never one like this with USA across my chest.” Leyland said he’s had to balance requests from managers and GMs concerning how to use their pitchers, and the last thing he wants is for someone to get hurt. His two goals for the WBC: win, and make sure everyone stays healthy.
3. Jason Varitek can pretty much be whatever he wants to be in the Red Sox organization. For now it’s special assistant. He makes his own schedule and helps out with young catchers; he’ll also make eight spring trips with the major league team. Varitek acknowledged he misses being a player. “I loved it,” he said. “When it’s over, you love it even more because you know that it’s gone.” Varitek still has aspirations of managing in the majors. He interviewed last offseason for the Seattle job and that experience should be helpful in future interviews. Varitek, despite having some nasty plate collisions as a player, isn’t a big fan of the collision rule that protects catchers, because it’s not the way he played growing up.
4. The sports TV world lost a legend last week when Bill Webb died at age 70. Webb was a legendary director of baseball broadcasts. He won 40 Emmy Awards. Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez, Mets analysts for SportsNet New York, were practically in tears as they described their personal relationships with Webb, whom they credit for transforming their broadcast careers.
5. Being at spring training for two months I don’t get a chance to listen to NESN’s Red Sox telecasts, but folks who have written me have been very impressed with Tom Caron as he fills in for Dave O’Brien, who is tending to his basketball commitments with ESPN.
Apropos of nothing
1. “You can feel it in your hands and you can hear it when the ball hits the bat,” said Hanley Ramirez of hitting a home run. Just once, I’d like to feel that. Ramirez feels it about 30 times a season.
2. Luis Tiant is down to one cigar a day. “They tell me I have to cut down, so I did,” Tiant, 76, said from JetBlue Park. Tiant’s favorite cigar is the Montecristo No. 2, which was Cigar Aficionado’s Cigar of the Year for 2013. “They run a little high [in price], but it’s my favorite. It’s a great cigar.” A Montecristo No. 2 runs about $11 per cigar.
3. I love Dwight Evans’s description of Mookie Betts: “He’s a little Willie Mays.”
4. Yes, Aaron Boone hit that memorable home run off Tim Wakefield to win the 2003 ALCS, but Boone is impressive in how he prepares for his color analyst role for ESPN. Boone is always interacting with players, managers, and coaches to gather information. You don’t always see that from ex-players who enter the broadcast booth.
5. People who work for him and interact with him rave about Lynn’s Derek Falvey, the Twins’ new president of baseball operations. The Trinity College grad has done a nice job of mixing in metrics with scouting and hasn’t disrupted the things that worked during Terry Ryan’s run as GM.
6. Wally’s sister Tessie has been a big hit at JetBlue Park. The kids love her.
7. It’s pretty cool that Red Sox nonroster infielder Matt Dominguez’s father is a copy editor on the sports desk of the Los Angeles Times. Former major league infielder David Newhan is the son of former LA Times columnist and Hall of Fame baseball writer Ross Newhan.
Updates on nine
1. Colby Lewis, RHP, free agent — With Andrew Cashner likely to start the year on the disabled list, the Rangers may look to bring back Lewis. They could go large and take a run at the White Sox’ Jose Quintana, but that would require a deep prospect package. Lewis has said he will not accept a minor league deal.
2. Allen Craig, DH/1B/OF, Red Sox — Craig is starting to catch the eye of scouts who feel he may be turning the corner. “Looks like he’s driving the ball with power again,” observed one NL scout. “He’s been through a lot. I think if he gets off to a good start at Pawtucket, you might see some activity on him. I would guess the Red Sox would have pay some of the money [$11 million due this year], but if he’s the guy we all remember with the Cardinals, that’s a guy you want hitting in the middle of the order.”
3. Doug Fister, RHP, free agent — With Sonny Gray out at least three weeks with a lat strain, the A’s have to be looking into a guy like Fister or Lewis. Lat strains can be tricky and take longer to heal than expected. The A’s could use an experienced starter.
4. Allard Baird and Frank Wren, Red Sox — They are the top men of Dave Dombrowski’s inner circle. Their job is to evaluate other teams and recommend players or free agents. Both are former GMs — Wren with the Orioles and Braves and Baird with the Royals.
5. Kyle Kendrick, RHP, Red Sox — With Boston’s rotation depth taking a hit with Roenis Elias out with a side muscle issue, Kendrick could become a valuable piece. He is getting some good advice on his pitch repertoire and approach from vice president of baseball analytics Brian Bannister. Kendrick is a control pitcher who doesn’t throw very hard, but he has a career record of 81-81. Kendrick has an opt-out date of Aug. 30. He also has two other opt-outs if another major league team is interested in putting him on its roster. With starting pitchers around baseball already sustaining injuries, you wonder if Kendrick finds a new home sooner rather than later.
6. Jerry Narron, bench coach, Diamondbacks — Narron is filling in for Ron Gardenhire as Torey Lovullo’s bench coach. Gardenhire is undergoing prostate cancer treatments and Narron has vast experience as a bench coach (he was Jimy Williams’s in Boston) and manager.
7. Jose Quintana, LHP, White Sox — It’s true that the White Sox have been scouting the Yankees for a potential deal. The Yankees are a bit redundant at first base and shortstop, so there’s room for a package there.
8. Shohei Otani, RHP/OF/1B, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters — The Red Sox will be among the teams ready to pounce if Otani elects to leave Japan. The problem for Otani — who is missing the WBC because of an ankle sprain — is the $5 million international spending limit adopted in the new CBA. Some major league scouts think he’ll come anyway. “From what I’m hearing he’s enamored by the major leagues, as are most Japanese players. He’s at the top of his game now and if he waits, who knows?” said an AL team’s international scout.
9. James Shields, RHP, White Sox — Shields’s struggles have been well documented, but there’s hope for him. One executive from a rival team said, “Because of his competitive nature, if there’s a guy who could be a candidate for a rebound year, it would be Shields.” Shields, 35, was 4-12 with a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts last year.
From the Bill Chuck files — “The last pitched intentional walk honors belong to the Indians’ Bryan Shaw, who threw four pitches to walk the Cubs’ Addison Russell in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series. The last in the regular season was issued by Washington’s Reynaldo Lopez, throwing four wide to Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton on Oct 2.” . . . Also, “After the All-Star break last season, in 64 games and 269 PA, Ben Zobrist swung and missed only 46 times (the fewest amount in the majors), which might be one of the reasons he’s going for his third straight World Series ring in 2017.” . . . Happy birthday (on Monday) to Sandy Leon (28) and Mike Aviles (36).
Brian Snitker became the fourth major leaguer to make his managerial debut at age 60 or older when he succeeded Fredi Gonzalez as Braves skipper on May 17 last season. Snitker, who has worked as a manager, coach, and instructor in the Braves system since 1981, finished last season 59-65 and had the interim tag removed in October. The other managers who made their debuts after turning 60: