CLEVELAND – Finding the right time to bridge over from a starting pitcher to a relief pitcher is usually a difficult decision to make, especially when the former of the two has notched 10 strikeouts in six scoreless innings.
Not with Andrew Miller.
Despite an inauspicious beginning to the seventh inning with three straight singles charged to Carlos Carrasco, the 32-year-old southpaw was able to set down all three hitters he faced to keep a 3-0 margin over the Orioles intact.
“That’s the ballgame. That’s pretty impressive,” manager Terry Francona said. “We’re (winning) 3-0. It seemed like we’re kind of hanging on there. Most of the time, you be like, ‘Okay, let’s just try to limit the damage.’ For them to get nothing, that’s not the only time he’s done it. He’s really carried the heavy lifting. That was very impressive.”
While it may have come against the bottom of the opposing order, it is worth noting that hitters are now 0-for-17 against Miller when the ducks are on the pond dating back to 2014. Not only does this prevent three inherited runners from scoring, but it also establishes Miller as the perfect fit for just about any high-leverage situation.
“I don’t know, I hope I don’t think about that next time,” said Miller, smiling when asked about his three-year streak. “It’s as stressful of a moment as it is for the pitcher as for the hitter as well. He’s expected to come through. If I can let that play through into my advantage, I think that’s probably something that helps me out. Ultimately, just try to make a pitch. Trust your catcher.”
The battery comprised of Miller and Roberto Perez was clicking on all cylinders in a 10-pitch span that involved Joey Rickard’s groundout, Caleb Joseph’s strikeout and Ruben Tejada’s strikeout…
Result: Andrew Miller retires Joey Rickard on a force out at home plate (83.9-mph slider hit at a 70.4-mph exit velocity).
Result: Andrew Miller strikes out Caleb Joseph on an 83.5-mph slider (swinging strike three).
Result: Andrew Miller strikes out Ruben Tejada on a 95.4-mph four-seam fastball (swinging strike three).
In a matter of moments, the momentum shifted back in the road nine’s favor as Miller saved the Tribe from blowing a lead for the second consecutive night. The former sixth overall pick out of UNC entered play with a team-leading 1.97 win probability added (ninth out of MLB pitchers, min. 30 IP), a statistic used to measure how much a player helps or hurts a club’s chances of winning.
Francona is doing Carrasco a favor by putting in a pitcher capable of giving a team a competitive advantage when they need it the most.
“It was great,” Carrasco said. “Bases-loaded, no outs and then he got (two) strike outs. That was impressive. We got a great bullpen and we had a good defense behind us that made any play.”
With a two-pitch mix comprised of the four-seam fastball (41% usage rate) and slider (59% usage rate), Miller has been able to refine each pitch to perfection. While batters are swinging at a career-high 48.6% of Miller’s offerings, they are also seeing pitches in the strike zone at a career-low 43% clip.
In simpler terms, Miller is making hitters swing more at pitches outside the zone than ever before. His 1.43 ERA, 0.72 WHIP and .146 batting average are all video game numbers that help justify this point.
“We had a pretty good chance of getting out of the inning,” said Francisco Lindor. “Miller pitched great. He executed today and got us a victory.”
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.