Friday, July 06, 2007

Miller: Too Early To Be Comfortable As A Big Leaguer

Andrew Miller is 22, 6-foot-6, lefthanded throwing, and will one day be a son-of-a-bitch to bat against in the big leagues. Already, after just a handful of MLB starts, his manager has suggested that Miller might be approaching SOB status.

"When he releases the ball, it's like he's three feet away from home plate," Jim Leyland said a month or so ago about his rookie pitcher's long frame. He used the comparison to help justify why he was keeping Miller on the staff -- and in the starting rotation --when injuries called for shuffling and demotions.

Miller was splayed on the sofa in the Tigers' clubhouse, relaxing before yesterday's game with the Indians when I asked him when he could feel as comfortable calling himself a big leaguer as he was on that faux leather couch.

"I don't think anyone with three or four (major league) starts should ever feel that way," he told me. "Especially with a team like this, where we're expected to win. I know that if I don't perform, I don't have any job security whatsoever."

We said Andrew Miller was young. We didn't say that he's naive, though.

"We're expected to win here," Miller says of the Tigers

Miller is 3-2 with a 3.81 ERA after five starts in the bigs. He's shown definite flashes of why the Tigers were in such a rush to sign him last summer after making him their first round draft pick (University of North Carolina), and why they wanted to see him in MLB games, pronto (he pitched in eight September games in 2006 with a 6.10 ERA in 10.1 IP). He's also shown signs that some big league hitters aren't impressed yet. He's given up four homeruns, for example, in 28.1 IP in his 2007 starts.

"I think coming up last year has made things easier this season," Miller says. "They were important ballgames in September (that he pitched in). They -- I mean WE -- were trying to win the division. The fact that there was that extra pressure is certainly helping (now)."

To fans and other observers, it might seem like a no-brainer that the Tigers keep Miller around for the duration this season, giving Leyland three lefty starters and yet another power arm -- the kind of arm that the skipper likes in pennant-affecting regular season games and in the postseason. But the only no-brainer thing that Miller will concede to is that his performance and his performance alone will be the thing that determines whether he stays or he goes.

"There are a lot of guys who can start for us," Miller says. "I have to pitch pretty well to stick around. I know that if I don't perform well, I could very easily lose my job."

As for his manager's embellishment of his height and its effect on opposing hitters, Miller downplays his size.

"I don't think about it. I think it probably is somewhat of an advantage, but when I'm throwing a pitch, I'm not thinking about using my height extra on a certain pitch or anything like that."

Little comfort, I would guess, for hitters to know that the giant 60 feet, six inches from them isn't thinking about how menacing he looks on the hill.

We ended our discussion, and Miller went back to perusing the latest issue of Baseball America, relaxed and comfortable on the sofa.

Not to disprespect the rookie's caution, but I think he ought to get used to how that sofa feels.


P.S. I was at CoPa yesterday working for Michigan In Play! Magazine, the July issue of which should be out soon. I write a column for Jack Rosenberg's publication, called "Word Around the Campfire" -- a compendium of things I've seen and heard in locker rooms and streets about Detroit sports. In August, Miller's relationship with veteran lefty Kenny Rogers will be included in "the campfire." MIP is available at about 400 locations in Metro Detroit, and it's FREE. Log on to for a location near you.


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