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Andrew Miller Chasing Return to Bigs

Jul 9, 2010 – 2:00 PM
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Jim Henry

Jim Henry %BloggerTitle%

Andrew MillerAndrew Miller was once praised as one of professional baseball's top pitching prospects.

In 2006, the North Carolina left-hander was the College Player of the Year, led the Tar Heels to the College World Series championship series and was the No. 6 overall pick in the draft by the Detroit Tigers. By the end of that summer, Miller was pitching in the big leagues and appeared on his way to fulfilling his vast promise.

When Miller takes the mound Friday night for the Jacksonville (Fla.) Suns, the Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins, he's hopeful it will be another step towards his return to the major leagues.

"Nothing is guaranteed. All I can do is work my hardest to get back where I want to be, which is pitching in the major leagues and being successful," Miller told FanHouse Thursday afternoon.

Even four years after Miller burst on the professional scene, there's no denying his obvious talent and potential.

Miller can still throw his fastball in the 95- to 100-mph range. He can still buckle hitters' knees with offspeed pitches. He can still intimidate from the rubber at 6-foot-7.

Yet, Miller's chronic inconsistencies have landed him in the minor leagues. He has struggled with his mechanics and repeating his delivery. Finding the strike zone has been, at times, a pitch-by-pitch adventure.

Miller, who recently turned 25, is determined to find the Miller of old.

"I've been there [the big leagues] and I've had good games, I've had good months ... at times, though, it has been a pretty inconsistent experience for me," Miller explained.

"All the work I've put in the bullpen, doing the things I need to do each day, it's finally starting to pay off and the command has come around. That's everything to me -- the ability to throw strikes."
-- Andrew Miller
"I would like to get back to have the consistency and have success for an extended period of time up there. All the work I've put in in the bullpen, doing the things I need to do each day, it's finally starting to pay off and the command has come around.

"That's everything to me -- the ability to throw strikes."

Miller has worked extremely hard at refining his delivery and trying to rediscover his natural throwing motion. He has been encouraged by his last three starts for the Suns, allowing two earned runs with 13 strikeouts and eight walks in 19 innings. He has trimmed his ERA from 9.78 to 5.93.

Miller, who is 14-21 with a 5.50 ERA in 70 big-league games, including 47 starts, admits he's a work in progress.

When the Marlins landed Miller in 2007 in an eight-player trade with Detroit, many expected him to anchor the franchise's starting rotation. But finding the strike zone proved to be a continuing challenge. He went 9-15 in 2008 and 2009, walking 99 batters in 187 innings and finishing last season in the Marlins' bullpen.

Miller continued to work on his mechanics last fall by pitching in the Arizona Fall League, which is primarily a showcase for minor league prospects.

Known to throw across his body, Miller attempted to straighten his delivery. It sounded simple enough and was thought to be an easy fix. Wrong. It only caused more problems.

Miller's struggles continued in spring training, where he walked eight and struck out two and had a 7.04 ERA in three Grapefruit League appearances (7 2/3 innings). Compounding Miller's woes was right-knee tendinitis, a recurring ailment that had required months of rehab time.

Miller's fortunes didn't change when he arrived in Jacksonville, as he dropped four of his first six decisions for the Suns.

In those 23 innings, Miller surrendered 25 earned runs and 27 walks. He allowed nine earned runs on six hits in two-thirds of an inning in a home start against Mobile on June 12.

In Miller's case, however, his number don't tell the entire story.

"I've been making adjustments for a couple of years that would qualify as more major than minor mechanical-type of changes," Miller said.

"I think as a result it changed my arm in the sense my delivery was real mechanical instead of just being a natural movement for me and it got to be a real process to just throw the ball. We thought it would make it easier to throw strikes and it was going to be an easy fix.

"So the past few months we've been trying to simplify my delivery, trying to simplify the whole process of throwing the baseball and trying to get back to what's natural and what's always worked for me. The first month here [in Jacksonville] was cruel, a rough time, but here lately it's coming around a bit."

Polite and personable, Miller remains confident in his ability.

Miller's $1.7 million contract with the Marlins expires in March 2011. Marlins president Larry Beinfest and player personnel director Dan Jennings recently watched Miller pitch. Miller is just one of four left-handed pitchers on the team's 40-man roster.

While Miller would rather be pitching in the major leagues, Jacksonville has been a good fit. Miller was married in Jacksonville last December and he was born and raised in Gainesville, 90 minutes away.

As much as Miller wants to move up and make an impact, he's determined to make the best of each start. The Suns were first-half champions in the South Division of the Southern League.

"Jacksonville has been a good situation for me," Miller said.

"It's a great team and we've had a lot of success. There are great players all around and it's a lot of fun. I think it's a good place for me to be in order to reach my goals to get back to the major leagues."
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