Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 24 – Andrew Miller

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Countdown to Opening Day – 24

The World Baseball Classic is now well underway and if you are a fan of the Cleveland Indians, you are likely struggling with the Team USA roster spot devoted to Tribe reliever Andrew Miller.

Indians pitchers who have attempted to participate in the exhibition have not always fared well, either in their preparation leading up to playing, or in their regular season results that followed their play in the multi-country tournament. Given the significance that Miller has to the Indians bullpen, those concerns are merited.

While Edwin Encarnacion, the club’s big free agent addition in the offseason, has opted not to partake in the Classic to better acclimate to the Indians organization and prepare for the season, Miller and ten other teammates will represent a handful of nations in the first games since 2013.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Miller is coming off of arguably the best season of his eleven-year career, one that came at the age of 31 and resulted in the first All-Star trip of his career and a ninth-place finish in the American League Cy Young voting. He was all the rage in the playoffs, when his dominance on the mound helped the Indians bullpen carry the heavier load created by a starting rotation decimated by injuries late in the season.

The left-hander is no specialist, as his ability to retire batters from either side of the plate gives him great value. Several straight strong seasons since converting full-time to relief work while in Boston in 2012 have turned Miller into one of the more feared relievers in the game today.

A starter for most of his first six seasons in the Majors with Detroit, Florida, and Boston, Miller has put up better and better numbers in each of his last five seasons working exclusively in relief. Last season, he appeared in 70 games between New York and Cleveland, the second most of his career, and tossed the third-most innings in his time in the big leagues, trailing only his numbers with the Marlins back in 2008 and 2009 when working largely out of the rotation.

Miller began his second season in the Big Apple in 2016 and started off with more overpowering numbers on the mound. Coming off of a 3-2 record with 36 saves, a 2.04 ERA, and a 0.86 WHIP in his first season with the club in 2015 after signing a four-year, $36 million deal in free agency, Miller started his season with video game numbers for the Yankees. He was named to the American League squad for the All-Star game in San Diego due to his ridiculous first half numbers, which included a 5-1 record, seven saves, a 1.37 ERA, a 0.71 WHIP, and a 15.8 strikeouts per nine innings rate in his 39 1/3 innings over 38 games.

He would remain with the Yankees for a few more weeks after the Midsummer Classic before being dealt in a surprising blockbuster trade with the Indians that sent top prospects Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, along with prime future bullpen candidates Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen, to the Evil Empire to add Miller to the bullpen mix in Clevealand.

After giving up a homer to Joe Mauer in his first appearance with the Indians, Miller adapted and did so quickly to his new club. In the 25 games to follow that first appearance, he would earn nine holds, three saves, four wins, and would allow just four more earned runs (two on homers leading to a 1.26 ERA) with an absurd 46 strikeouts to two walks over 28 2/3 innings.

He became a household name throughout the American League playoffs and on into the World Series as he and his bullpen teammates Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw were worked in multiple innings while he continued his superb regular season performance into the postseason. He worked a pair of two-inning appearances against Boston in the ALDS, striking out seven, walking two, and allowing two hits while earning a win and a hold. He appeared in four games in the ALCS against Toronto, working between one and one-third innings and two and two-thirds innings in each outing while striking out 14, giving up three singles and issuing no walks with three holds and a save on the way to being named the series MVP.

Rob Tringali/Getty Images
Rob Tringali/Getty Images

He finally struggled at the end of the playoffs, working four games of the World Series against Chicago while giving up three runs on seven hits with three walks and nine strikeouts. The home run allowed in Game 4 was the first run surrendered in his postseason career at the time (in his 15th game overall).

Miller did not back down during the regular season and his overall numbers proved that the spotlight of the playoffs had no effect on his ability to pitch like one of the best relievers in the game today.

After throwing 1,423 pitches in the regular season and playoffs, spring ball began quickly for Miller and the Indians after a short offseason and an earlier start than normal due to the World Baseball Classic. Miller made his way into four spring training games before joining Team USA for the tournament, posting a 6.75 ERA with six strikeouts and a walk and seven hits allowed in four innings of work. His spring numbers have historically been shaky as he finds his rhythm on the mound, so those brief numbers should not be overly alarming.

Miller’s first shot at WBC action will occur tonight at 6:00 PM as Team USA and Columbia face off in the first round of the tournament from Miami. Reunited with his former manager with the Detroit Tigers, Jim Leyland, Miller could also potentially see first round action over the next three days as the US team also faces the Dominican Republic on Saturday night and Canada on Sunday night. If the team handles the opposition, Miller’s preseason will continue to be spent away from his Indians teammates at their Goodyear, Arizona, home.

When he returns to Tribe camp, hopefully healthy and hungry, he will help anchor the Cleveland bullpen once again, joining Allen and Shaw in posing a formidable threat to opposing Major League clubs.

Other notable 24’s in Indians history: Early Wynn (1949-57), Tito Francona (1963-64), Charlie Spikes (1973-77), Terry Francona (1988), Manny Ramirez (1993-2000), Milton Bradley (2002-03), Grady Sizemore (2004-11), Michael Bourn (2013-15)

Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

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