Notes: Lights-out Miller set for Buffalo
Right-hander posts 0.00 ERA but will probably go to Triple-A
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- On most teams, Adam Miller's sensational spring would be enough to punch Miller's ticket to the Major Leagues for Opening Day.
Unfortunately for the Indians right-hander, this year likely isn't going to be one of those years. The 22-year-old blanked Atlanta on three hits over five innings on Monday to run his string of scoreless innings to 14 in four Grapefruit League appearances, but with the Indians rotation fairly set, Miller will probably open the season at Triple-A Buffalo.
"He's been as impressive as anybody in camp," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "Obviously, he's had an outstanding camp. I think when you talk about a young pitcher in his first camp getting three starts, you couldn't ask for much more than what he's done here."
Besides the 0.00 ERA, Miller has allowed just eight hits, three walks and struck out eight.
A sandwich pick (31st overall) in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, Miller retired 13 consecutive Braves after a leadoff single by Kelly Johnson. His fastball registered a high of 96 mph on the scorebard pitch speed indicator. Of the 66 pitches he threw, 44 were strikes.
"I liked him a lot," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "[The ball] comes out of his hand real easy. He's legit."
The only trouble Miller encountered was in his final inning of work, when Craig Wilson's one-out swinging bunt went for an infield single. Yunel Escobar followed with a grounder to the left side that probably should have been caught, but found a hole for another single. Miller than walked Willie Harris to load the bases, but struck out Chuck James and retired Johnson on a groundout to end the threat.
"Adam's had an outstanding camp, even if you look at that last inning today," Wedge said. "We worked ourselves into a situation and he worked hard and he found a way to get out of it. It's not just about his stuff, it has a lot to do with the way he handles himself and how he pitches and the way he makes pitches."
It might be a tough decision in light of his performance, but there are logical reasons the Indians will wait a little longer for Miller.
"Well, when you talk about a young pitcher, you're talking about somebody that just has to continue to develop and gain experience, and we want to make that we're giving him every opportunity to work on what he needs to work on before he takes that next step," Wedge said.
Miller knows this was probably his last start of the Major League camp, but clearly isn't upset with the decision. Even with the injury to Cliff Lee, the Indians rotation has four outstanding starters in C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Jeremy Sowers and Paul Byrd, and the projected fifth starter, Fausto Carmona, has more experience and has pitched well this spring.
"I really never planned on making the team," Miller said. "I pretty much came in expecting to go to Buffalo, and I have no problem with that. They've already got five great starters up there, they don't need me right now. So I'll just go to Buffalo and keep working, and if they need somebody up there, I'll be ready."
Miller looked ready against the Braves, though even he admits he needs more work on a few things. He cited his backdoor slider, which was hit hard twice by the Braves. He also worked on his two-seam fastball, the newest weapon in a four-pitch arsenal which also includes a four-seam fastball, slider and changeup.
That might sound like nitpicking considering his results, but Miller is wise enough to know that Spring Training statistics can be deceiving. Besides, he had a different mindset about this camp than others may have had as far as his situation. To Miller, this wasn't an audition, it was preparation for the season.
"I just approached it like I would any Spring Training," he said. "I've just been working on getting myself ready for the season, [and] I've been fortunate not to give up any runs."
Still, he had to admit it was a great experience. And getting some innings against Major Leaguers can't hurt.
"It was a blast," Miller said. "I didn't expect to stay this long. To get to here was great."
Sowers could go third: Lee's injury means the Indians rotation will need a No. 3 starter, and Wedge indicated on Monday that Sowers and Byrd would probably move up one spot each.
"Obviously, we haven't made a final decision in the five hole, but the way we had it initially set up was probably Sowers in the four hole and Byrd in the five hole, so more than likely we'll just move that up to three and four," Wedge said. "[It's] not set in stone, but more than likely."
Wedge indicated keeping different styles of pitchers following each other was one of the factors he was considering with regards to the rotation order.
Home stretch: With two weeks to go until Opening Day, the Indians are getting close to being ready, but they're not there yet.
"Guys have been working hard, a lot of energy, the play has been pretty consistent," Wedge said. "You're always looking to get better. We still have things we need to continue to work on. Every area of our ballclub needs to be tightened up."
Bullpen rolls a six: Relievers Rafael Betancourt and Aaron Fultz followed Miller and gave up a combined six runs on eight hits in three innings.
Fultz took the loss after giving up four runs on six hits in two innings.
"He hadn't been out there in a while with the rainouts, so I think it was just more of a situation of him getting out there getting some repetition, seeing some hitters. We were able to extend him a little bit, which we wanted to do, so I think that's going to help him," Wedge said. "He'll get more consistent work as we head in towards the season."
Betancourt gave up a two-run homer to Braves utilityman Scott Thorman. The right-hander has struck out 11 and walked one in eight innings. His ERA (7.88) is high because of three-run stint in his first appearance, but Wedge isn't concerned.
"He's been throwing the ball better," Wedge said. "He's been using all his pitches, fastball's coming around, location's coming around, so I think he's moving in the right direction."
Dress rehearsal: With perhaps a couple of tweaks, there's a good chance the lineup Wedge used Monday against Atlanta could be the one he uses on Opening Day against White Sox right-hander Jose Contreras at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
Although Cox started a lefty, the Indians starting lineup consisted of a switch-hitter (catcher Victor Martinez), four left-handed batters (center fielder Grady Sizemore, right fielder Trot Nixon, first baseman Travis Hafner and left fielder David Dellucci) and four right-handed batters (third baseman Casey Blake, shortstop Jhonny Peralta, second baseman Josh Barfield and righty Miller).
Most of this group will likely start against the White Sox on April 2, with the exception of Hafner at designated hitter and Blake moving to first base with Andy Marte the expected starter at third. The batting order, with the exception of Barfield perhaps hitting ninth behind Marte instead of eighth as he did against the Braves, could also be the same one used against the White Sox in two weeks.
Wedge has already tabbed Sabathia to make what will be the fourth Opening Day assignment for the left-hander. For Contreras, 35, it will be his first Opening Day start.
On this day: Fifty years ago this Monday, in what is believed to be the largest offer for a player to date, the Indians reject Boston's bid of $1 million for 24-year-old Herb Score, the 1955 Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star who won 36 games over his first two seasons with the Indians. Cleveland general manager Hank Greenberg says that the team is interested in building for the future, not in selling its best ballplayers. Six weeks later, Score is struck in the eye by Gil McDougald's liner and his once promising career is never the same.
Quotable: "I think it's the total package. We knew that coming in, but to see him go out and pitch, and to watch his mindset, [you see that he] is very under control, yet he's aggressive right along with it." -- Wedge, on what Miller has shown him this spring
Extra bases: Peralta made a nice defensive play on a ball hit by Jeff Francouer in the first. Peralta moved to his right to get into position to make a backhanded stop, then was able to plant and throw out Francouer by a step to end the inning. ... Infielder Joe Inglett, who has been sidelined by a strained hamstring, might be ready to play against the Devil Rays next Monday. ... Dellucci made a fine diving catch to rob Harris of a hit in the third. ... Joe Borowski threw, but he did not make the trip and instead stayed back to pitch against Minor Leaguers. The right-handed closer was allowed to go two innings in an effort to help stretch him out for the season. "Initially we want him to focus on the ninth inning, and we'll work from there," Wedge said.
On deck: The Indians travel to St. Petersburg on Tuesday to take on Tampa Bay in a 1:05 p.m. ET game. Right-hander Jake Westbrook will go to the mound for Cleveland, while the Devil Rays will start right-hander Gary Glover.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.