Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Sports

Miller is unhittable, no matter the inning

Here he comes again, marching onto the field when the bullpen door swings open, this high-priced assassin brought to Cleveland to torture the best hitters in the world.

Here comes Andrew Miller, the reliever who cost the Indians $9 million and four prospects — and that's still a bargain.

Miller and Indians manager Terry Francona have torn up traditional thinking during this postseason and it has them two wins from the World Series. Francona, the roles-be-damned manager, and Miller, the easygoing reliever with enough contract and humility to embrace his manager's unorthodox ways.

They were at it again Saturday when Miller was called on to pitch the seventh and eighth innings of the Indians' 2-1 win over the Blue Jays to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the ALCS. Miller struck out the first four batters he faced with a slider nastier than Donald Trump's mouth.

Try as they might, this stacked Blue Jays lineup simply can't hit it. Miller has retired 11 of the 12 batters he has faced in this series thanks primarily to that slider. He has thrown it 31 times in these two wins. Only once was it put in play. Once. A harmless single by Josh Donaldson in the eighth inning Friday night.

"When you think about what he's doing against ... some of the best hitters in the game, and he's making them look that bad? He's got stuff," Rajai Davis said. "His deception, his sharpness on his curve and his slider, they look like they're going to be strikes and then when you go to swing, they're not a strike. And they're so close that they could be."

It took time for the 6-foot-7 lefty to refine that slider, a pitch that is nearing Mariano Rivera's cutter in terms of unhittability. Miller has faced 28 batters in this postseason; 17 of them have struck out.

"There was no moment where I said, 'A-ha! I've got it! I've figured it out!' "said Miller, whose move to the bullpen revived his career. "It was just little things. Probably millions of little adjustments or changes."

Francona has praised Miller for his flexibility. Most elite relievers crave defined roles, particularly late in games. But Miller 's making $9 million this season and has another $18 million coming the next two years whether he pitches the fifth, the ninth or in between. Miller has his money. Now he wants a ring.

"I do think it's easier when you've got a big contract," said Francona, whose use of Miller might force managers across baseball to re-evaluate what they're doing.

"If you're a young kid ... the best way to make money is to get some saves. Bullpens can be volatile, too. The Riveras of the world aren't growing on trees."

Maybe not, but there is one in full bloom in Cleveland.

— Akron Beacon Journal (TNS)

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