Andrew Miller had a historically elite season for a non-closer reliever last season. He struck out 45 percent -- FORTY FIVE PERCENT!! -- of the batters he faced in 2016 while holding them to a .159 batting average. That was the third consecutive season in which Miller has struck out at least 40 percent of the batters he's faced while holding them below a .160 batting average. For all of that amazing dominance, he has 49 saves over the past three seasons. Miller has been a sabermetric dream for relief pitcher usage, but he really took off after a midseason trade to Cleveland under Indians manager Terry Francona, who used him to put out early fires while eschewing the traditional usage of the team's best reliever for later innings. Miller would be an amazing full-time closer again if Cleveland were to trade Cody Allen, but the team seems quite willing to use Miller in a multitude of hats. Not piling up saves at a steady clip deflates his rotisserie value a bit, but Miller is still a better choice than many starting pitchers thanks to his excellent ratios and top-end strikeout rate.
Miller struck out two and walked one in a scoreless inning Sunday against San Diego. The outing was Miller's final appearance before leaving Monday to join Team USA for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Miller said he was pleased with what he accomplished in his four spring outings before the tournament. "It was just trying to feel good," the southpaw said, "and trying to feel like you're moving in the right direction. I feel like I've accomplished that. For the most part, I've thrown a lot of strikes. And I feel like I'm getting a little bit better every time, a little crisper. I kind of worked in more secondary today, but I feel like I'm right where I need to be." Miller's WBC usage will be closely monitored by the Indians' coaching staff; his usage in the remaining Cactus League slate will depend on his level of participation in the tournament.
Miller allowed three hits and struck out one in his spring debut Saturday against the Reds. Despite getting into a bit of a jam, Miller was content with the outing. More than anything, he was happy to consistently find the strike zone and see reactions from hitters in a game setting as he prepared to join Team USA for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. "I felt like I was throwing strikes. That's more than you can hope for at this point," the lefty told reporters after the game. "We just want to see how our stuff plays against live batters. We know they're behind. They haven't seen live pitching. It's a process for everybody. The biggest thing for me is to go out there, make adjustments and get the ball over the plate the majority of the time." Indians' pitching coach Mickey Callaway noted that Miller is scheduled to appear in four Cactus League games before departing for the Classic.
Miller will return to a set-up man role this season as Cody Allen remains the closer, Chris Assenheimer of The Chronicle-Telegram reports. Miller served well in a setup role last season as part of a deadly combination with Allen. Acquired from the Yankees at the trade deadline, the tall left-hander posted a 1.55 ERA and a 0.55 WHIP over 26 games, helping Cleveland capture the AL pennant. Miller's numbers will obviously make him a top reliever in some formats, but it's unlikely he will be able to rack up saves on a consistent basis.
Miller feels ready and fully-equipped to balance the World Baseball Classic with preparing for the MLB regular season, Jordan Bastian of MLB.com reports. After an early-morning throwing session Tuesday, Miller emphasized that the MLB season is what's most important. He's consulted the Indians' training staff on how to handle the WBC after throwing a career-high 93.2 innings in 2016. According to his pitching coach Mickey Callaway, the most important element to the southpaw's participation in the tournament will be to monitor his pitch usage. Callaway noted that Miller has typically thrown a high volume of fastballs in the early stages of spring training, whereas the 31-year-old's slider is his dominant pitch in the regular season. The pitching coach plans to keep in contact with Team USA during the WBC to keep tabs on Miller's pitch usage.
Miller plans to pitch for Team USA in each round of the World Baseball Classic, MLB Network Radio reports. Miller has made it clear, despite a heavy workload last year, that he'll go full-throttle for Team USA and his first big-league manager, Jim Leyland, in the upcoming WBC. Any team would be concerned if a high-priced asset like Miller left the team during spring training to play for another organization. The big lefty who played a critical role in the team's 2016 AL Championship will now have to ramp up his preseason routine a bit early, and lock in for a potential 10-month stretch of pitching. It's fair to assume a veteran like Miller will handle the situation with care, but if he's used often during the WBC, then he may be on an innings-limit early in the 2017 MLB season.