Commentary

Andrew Miller may be a find for Red Sox

Updated: June 21, 2011, 10:05 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The shortest left-handed pitcher in Boston Red Sox history was a 5-foot-7 reliever by the name of August G. "Happy" Foreman, who appeared in just six big league games in the 1920s, three for the Red Sox, and neither won nor lost a game.

Foreman did, however, play an exhibition with the Chicago White Sox in front of the King and Queen of England, and was, according to one Internet rendering of his career, the last ballplayer to carry the nickname of "Happy."

By taking the mound for the Red Sox on Monday night in Fenway Park, his long legs eclipsed only by the stilts-walker who parades down Yawkey Way, Andrew Miller became the tallest left-hander in Sox history, at 6-foot-7 a full foot taller than Foreman.

When Miller sets up on the rubber, his right leg pointed toward the visitors' dugout on the third-base side, he looks like he could hand a beverage to Dennis Drinkwater, the glass man who sits behind home plate, in two strides.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Miller
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesAndrew Miller cruised for five innings before giving up a three-run homer to Orlando Hudson in the sixth.

Miller is an inch taller than the four lefties who previously held that distinction: Dustin Richardson, David West, Bob Veale and Garry Roggenburk. In one of those odd quirks of history, the Sox swapped Richardson for Miller in November, fully intending to profit by more than an inch with the acquisition.

The early returns? Let's just say most everybody on the Red Sox side came away, um, happy, even if Miller, like Foreman, has yet to win a game in a Sox uniform.

Miller looked like he was headed in that direction, taking a 3-0 lead over the San Diego Padres into the sixth, but a walk, single and three-run home run by Orlando Hudson left him with a no-decision, the Red Sox not settling the outcome until an inning later, when they put a 10-spot on the board en route to a 14-5 victory.

"I thought he was really good, really encouraging," manager Terry Francona said of the 25-year-old left-hander who has known only disappointing notices since being drafted in the first round (sixth overall) by the Detroit Tigers in 2006.

"It's kind of a shame he left a fastball to Hudson out over the plate. He tried to come in and didn't get it there. It's three runs and all of a sudden it's a 3-3 game. Fortunately for our team, we have a huge inning later."

For Miller, there was triumph in the journey as much as the destination Monday night. From the pinnacle of teaming with his pal Daniel Bard to pitch North Carolina to the 2006 College World Series, Miller had stumbled badly since the Tigers fast-tracked him to the big leagues. One by one, each of the three C's -- command, control and confidence -- deserted him, and two big-league teams, the Tigers and Florida Marlins, ultimately saw more downside than upside.

The Red Sox, however, decided that a left-hander who can touch 99 mph with his fastball, can sweet-talk a curveball into breaking a hitter's heart, and can now throw a changeup, a pitch that didn't exist in his repertoire two years ago, was worth a high-priority salvage operation.

"He's got some moving parts in his delivery," Francona said. "He's always going to. He's tall and lanky, and he walked a couple of guys. But then he came right back and made pitches.

"There's a lot to like. This guy can really pitch. Sometimes you have to catch a break, and maybe we did."

Miller had strung together four terrific starts in Triple-A, the last a 10-punchout performance for Pawtucket. That was Tuesday night. The next day the Sox faced a deadline of losing Miller if they didn't promote him to the big leagues. GM Theo Epstein told him he'd be starting five days later, in Fenway, against the Padres.

That was probably more time than Miller would have liked to have had to think about it. He was honest enough to admit Monday night that it played on his nerves.

"But I trusted that I was prepared, I was throwing the ball well and I was going to go out and have a good outing here," Miller said. "Fortunately for me and my situation, I do have some big league experience, and I think that certainly helped. I wasn't as anxious or nervous as guys making their first start."

The Red Sox could use a lift from Miller. Daisuke Matsuzaka is out for at least a year after elbow reconstruction surgery. Clay Buchholz is on the DL with a lower back strain. John Lackey already has made a trip to the DL with a strained elbow. Josh Beckett was scratched from Tuesday's start with illness. Tim Wakefield is 44 and has a history of back issues.

Francona said the club may have caught a break with Miller, but credit the Sox with identifying him in the offseason as someone worth pursuing.

"I think the front office did a real good job of signing this kid," Francona said. "We worked hard to get him. Not only did we work hard to sign him, there was a lot of communication of what was the best way to get this kid to help us on the major league level. And he was mature enough to understand that."

When Miller struck out the first batter he faced, Chris Denorfia, on three pitches, there were a lot of people standing taller in the Sox organization. One was Rich Sauveur, the Triple-A pitching coach who worked closely with him in Pawtucket.

It didn't end there. Miller struck out Anthony Rizzo, the former Sox prospect who went to the Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, on a 94 mph fastball on the black in the second inning. Ryan Ludwick hit into a double play on a third-inning changeup. Miller's old roommate with the Marlins, Cameron Maybin, swung and missed at a third-strike breaking ball in the fourth, when Miller gave up a leadoff triple to Jesus Guzman and stranded him there.

Against the Padres, Miller was facing a soft touch of a lineup, but when you've fallen as far as he has, that mattered little. These were big league hitters he was getting out, he was commanding and he was moving forward.

This, in the end, is a confidence game, and on Monday night, the tallest left-handed pitcher in Sox history took a giant step in the right direction.

"Physically, at times I've shown I have the ability to succeed at this level, against the best teams," he said. "I think ultimately you have to do it all the time, and I think confidence is huge in that, and you build that by success. Success breeds confidence. I think that's what I'm looking to do."

It should be fun to watch him try.

"Going out there in a Red Sox uniform," he said, "was a blast."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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