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03/27/09 5:31 PM ET

Miller hopes to pitch through digit injury

Righty encouraged by latest results after throwing bullpen session

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Indians had low expectations for prospect Adam Miller pitching with decreased range of motion and strength in his right middle finger. It had seemed as though Miller was headed for season-ending and career-threatening surgery to repair the problem.

But after nine throwing sessions, including three bullpens, Miller, against significant odds, has had no pain, no inflammation and no further decreases in range of motion. And he's made enough incremental gains in command and velocity that the Indians now believe he might be able to avoid surgery.

"He's proven us wrong on all three fronts," head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff said.

The Indians, of course, are happy to be wrong, because this means that Miller, who was slated to convert to relief work this season, might once again be able to pitch himself back into their plans.

First things first, though, the right-handed Miller must show he can throw and command his slider in spite of the finger predicament. Thus far, he's thrown nothing but fastballs and changeups. He'll begin throwing the slider off flat ground Saturday and Sunday before his next bullpen session on Monday.

Each of Miller's bullpens has lasted between 25 and 35 pitches and been thrown under the watchful eyes of Soloff, Minor League pitching coordinators Dave Miller and Steve Lyons, pitching coach Carl Willis and manager Eric Wedge. When Miller threw his first bullpen on March 18, his command was so off-track that his professional career was viewed as being in jeopardy. But he's done nothing but improve since.

"It's been an interesting process, from a learning standpoint," Soloff said. "It's also something we're proud to be a part of because it's such an unchartered case."

The 24-year-old Miller, who is 32-25 with a 3.51 ERA in 104 career appearances in the Minors, has had problems with the finger since the middle of the 2007 season at Triple-A Buffalo, when he strained a ligament. The injury was not addressed surgically, and the sagging ligament led to a nasty blister on the finger in Spring Training of '08.

Miller made six starts for Buffalo last season before having surgery to seal the open hole in his skin. But Miller, at that time, was not a candidate for a complete reconstruction of the ligament because of the threat of infection posed by the open hole.

When Miller experienced soreness in the finger last month and noticed he had lost the ability to bend the finger at its tip earlier this month, it became clear he might need to have the reconstructive surgery, which would use a tendon from his wrist to replace two pulley ligaments in his finger. But if Miller can compensate for the issue on the mound, surgery can be avoided.

Miller is far from out of the woods. Because he has altered his release point and his mechanics to compensate for the finger issue, he is at risk for other injuries.

"When you walk down that road," Soloff said, "you assume those risks, especially when your other option is addressing a career-threatening injury with surgery."

For now, the Indians and Miller are encouraged. Soloff said Miller's demeanor is "night and day" from 10 days ago.

"I think he clearly understands the non-surgical route is an option," Soloff said, "and it's becoming more and more of an option each day."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.