Why Adam Miller's Bullpen Switch Couldn't Have Come at a Better Time

Nino Colla@TheTribeDailySenior Writer IFebruary 19, 2009

They didn't even plan it this way, but I'm sure the Cleveland Indians don't mind it working out like it could.

Adam Miller's frustrating injury past is one that has been quite, well, frustrating.

He was regarded as the top prospect in the Indians organization since 2005 according to Baseball America. It wasn't until this latest edition in 2009 that Miller was finally unseated from that honor.

Four years running, the hype machine for Miller has been churning.

Yet, year after year, as Miller inched ever so closer to attempting to prove what the people at Baseball America and many scouts around baseball thought, something seemed to be standing in his way.

That something was no something, but rather something that pitchers like Miller often find themselves fighting.

Not just injuries, but nagging ones.

Injuries such as a blister on his fingers, strains on his fingers, elbow inflammation, and things that just are, well, frustrating. Followers of Josh Beckett are all-too familiar with all of it.

The start of his injury issues came in 2005, when he sustained an elbow injury that sidelined him until June of that year. He pitched in three rehab starts for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and then made his return to Kinston for 12 starts.

Miller got himself on track for 2006, dominating the opposition at the Double-A level. He struck out 157 hitters in 154 innings for the Akron Aeros.

After showing the world he could handle Double-A, it was time for Miller to make the jump to the Triple-A level and pitch for Buffalo. He was back on track and hopefully he'd be ready to dazzle the hitters at the Major League level by the end of 2007.

Then, the injuries returned and boy did they return in a big way.

Miller was on the verge of maybe making an impact in 2007, until the injury bug took away his shot. It was believed that had he been healthy, it would have been Miller that got the call-up when Jeremy Sowers was sent down due to in-effectiveness.

He suffered one of those nagging finger injuries, one that strained the middle finger of his pitching hand. It put him out for 45 days, mostly as a precautionary move, but it still set him back.

Miller made his return to the Buffalo team later that year, but then went right back from where he came with another injury to his elbow. This time it was elbow inflammation and it forced him out until August.

Miller spent his comeback time in 2007 pitching from the bullpen, but he did start 11 games for Buffalo and he maintained the pace of striking out hitters more than innings he pitched in.

Now comes 2008, the year he was supposed to be ready to go as a Major Leaguer. Instead he had to prove himself at the Triple-A and hopefully would make a late-season impact from the bullpen spot.

He was supposed to be David Price. He was supposed to save the day from Joe Borowski, strike out the side in the seventh or eighth inning of Game Seven of the ALCS, or even do what Price did and send the Indians to the World Series.

That was the hope of many fans; it was the belief of many people.

But there it was, once again, injuries. Not just any-old injury either. It was actually an old injury.

That middle finger that kept him sidelined, mostly for a precaution, reared its ugly and very insignificant head.

In May of last season, Miller underwent surgery to re-attach the torn tendon of his middle finger. This time, his season was over, there was no coming back.

There was no savior, the Indians season went down the drain, and so did Miller's.

But it wasn't really over. No, Miller's offseason was pretty much his 2008 season. He spent time rehabbing from the surgery and he made his aim the offseason Winter League.

Miller made it to the Dominican and he while the leagues are strictly for learning and extra work purposes, Miller put on quite the show for scouts.

He made five starts, but he also appeared in his new role and he couldn't have looked more dominant according to scouts. His fastball is one that could reach as high as 101 mph, but for the Dominican he toned it down to 98.

Still not bad considering he's coming off finger surgery.

His new role is indeed as a relief pitcher, for now at least. No longer the Indians top prospect, with no thanks to the injuries, but also in large part due to the additions of Carlos Santana and Matt LaPorta, Miller is making a transition.

And boy, while he may been off-set thanks to injuries, for this year at least, it couldn't have come at a better time.

Eric Wedge has named Miller the favorite for the last spot in his opening day bullpen, but says he still has to win the spot. It should come a lot easier for him with Kerry Wood in the fold.

Wood was a phenom starting pitcher with a blazing fastball quite like Miller was. The difference was that Wood's injury issues happened after he made a Major League impact. Miller still hasn't thrown a pitch at the game's highest level.

But now he has a mentor of sorts.

Wood has been through a lot of the same battles that Miller has gone through and will face. He's had the injuries and he's recently overcome the obstacle of moving to the bullpen.

Something Miller is now looking to do successfully, at least for this season. But as he told the reporters down in Goodyear, he isn't looking to change much about the way he throws.

"I'm facing that hitter, I'm trying to get him out. I'm going to keep it as simple as that. Will there be stuff that changes? Probably. I'll probably use the changeup less and stick with the fastball and slider more. I'm still going to stick to my strengths -- fastballs, and when I get ahead, and the slider is my out-pitch. The only difference is the changeup. It will probably decrease."

And according to pitching coach Carl Willis, the fact that Miller has Wood around can do nothing but help Miller win that final bullpen spot.

"There's nothing like experience, and a young guy learning from a guy who has experience going from one role to another and succeeding is a positive."

He's certainly already taken to the words that Wood has given him.

"There will be a little adjustment period. But once he gets in the game and gets that adrenaline rush, his mentality will change. You're going after them with your best stuff, and it sounds like he has the stuff to do it. I think he'll have fun in that role."

That sounds eerily similar to what Miller said, about going after hitters with his dominant fastball and devastating slider.

Is there a better person for Adam Miller to be learning this stuff from? Could this have worked out any better?

Sure, he isn't where the thought he'd be and the Indians surely didn't plan for him to be in the bullpen. But you can't help but feel good about the move for Miller at the time being.

His career as a starter isn't over either, it's just on hold. And while those are the famous last words for pitchers like Miller, see Joba Chamberlain and Jonathan Papelbon for a few examples, the Indians still view Miller as a long-term rotation option.

The high-powered fastballs, the straight-from High School first round status, the injuries, the move to the bullpen, and the same home state. All of that connects Wood and Miller and a bullpen with both of them will be, well, frustrating.

For other teams at least.

It may not be the perfect situation, but this is a textbook definition of perfect timing.


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