CHICAGO - Regarded as the best left-handed reliever available at the non-waiver trade deadline, Andrew Miller had to feel some pressure upon entering the Orioles bullpen, upon cracking their inner circle. The team was in the thick of a pennant race and he jumped into the middle of it with expectations taller than his listed height.
The guy is 6-foot-7. You get the point.
Miller has responded beautifully, allowing one run and two hits in 7 1/3 innings, with three walks and 11 strikeouts.
“I came in and there certainly was some pressure, some expectations that I wanted to fulfill, but honestly, it’s been such an easy transition from the staff to the team as a whole to the bullpen, the guys I sit down there with every day,” Miller said earlier this week.
“They’ve all welcomed me and let me slide in and allowed me to do everything the way I’ve always done it, yet at the same time blend in. I think that’s made a huge difference and allowed me to come in just continue pitching.”
The relievers embraced Miller from the first day.
“I’ve been watching Andrew pitch for quite a few years and watching how the hitters respond to facing him,” said Darren O’Day. “You meet him and within a short while, you know that you like him and he fit in so seamlessly. You watch what he does to opposing hitters and you meet him and realize he’s a good dude, so you want him to stick around.
“Andrew’s been great. He’s fit in awesome. He fits in with all the inside jokes already. He’s been a great addition.”
The Orioles gave up one of their better young pitching prospects for Miller, sending 21-year-old left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to the Red Sox. Executive vice president Dan Duquette couldn’t talk them out of Rodriguez and finally relented.
“I feel like I’m pitching just like I was before the trade with the team I was previously with,” said Miller, who was 3-5 with a 2.34 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings with the Red Sox. “I think comfort’s a huge thing. You’re going into an unknown when you get traded and I’ve been really pleasantly surprised at how easy it’s been.”
Manager Buck Showalter jokingly fined himself a few days ago for having Miller warm up without entering the game. He’s diligent about monitoring ups, innings and lulls between appearances. Don’t overwork them and don’t let them sit too long.
“It’s been good so far,” Miller said. “I’ve had a pretty good idea when I’m going to pitch and I’ve gotten those opportunities. It’s been certainly different than I’ve seen. I’ve only been in the bullpen under two other managers really, but it’s been great so far.
“He has a reputation for that, so it’s not surprising. I just hope it stays this way.”
Ask any Orioles reliever and he’ll stack up this bullpen again any other in baseball.
“Since I’ve been here, the way guys have been throwing, yeah,” Miller said. “There’s all the talent in the world, and guys are pitching well on top of that. Talent’s not everything, but the ability is there and guys are capitalizing and using that to their fullest extent.
“I think there’s a lot of confidence out there right now, which is probably the most important thing when it’s all said and done. Everybody’s talented enough to make it here. You’ve got the stuff to succeed at this level. It’s a matter of actually doing it, and right now guys are doing it.”
Miller was part of the Red Sox’s 2013 world championship team, but he underwent surgery to repair a ligament in his left foot and didn’t pitch after July 6. Still, he knows playoff teams and he’s getting the same vibe from the Orioles.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” he said. “Seems like whatever aspect has to show up that day, it does. Some days we score a lot of runs, other days we’ve had to shut down the other team. It seems like we find a way to win. There’s something to that.
“I don’t know that you can put your finger on that. There’s just something in this team that seems to pull out wins and comes out at the end of the day in a positive light. You can’t exactly put your finger on what that is a lot of times, but there’s something to it and I think we’ve got that.”
The Orioles may not have Miller beyond 2014. He’s eligible for free agency and could command a hefty salary on the open market if a team views him as a closer.
Miller’s never been a ninth inning specialist - he was primarily a starter until 2012 - but his splits (right-handers hit .165, left-handers .147) and high strikeout totals suggest he could make the transition. There’s only one way to find out.
“I think the key to that is potential,” he said. “I think closing is something that usually happens kind of more organically. A spot opens up. It’s something you have to fall into to get the opportunity the first time. But as far as I’m concerned, I feel like I’m confident against any hitter in any section of the lineup that there is in the big leagues.
“I like the way I’m throwing the ball and I’ll take my chances against anybody. If that opportunity ever arises, I think I’m capable, but I’m just starting to dip my toe in the waters of what I’m able to do as a reliever and I feel like I’m getting better each time out.”