Miller faces Padres in bid for fresh start

Andrew Miller gets his first start in a Red Sox uniform tonight. AP Photo/Dave Martin

BOSTON -- From the beginning, when they traded for him last November, nontendered him, then re-signed him, the Red Sox understood that Andrew Miller was a reclamation project, a former No. 1 draft pick lost in the wilderness of unmet promise.

But from the beginning, the Red Sox have also understood that the potential payoff of Miller finding his way back bordered on the spectacular, a 6-foot-7 left-hander who, when at his best -- throwing his 97-99 mile an hour fastball and commanding his breaking stuff -- conjured visions of another Randy Johnson.

On Monday night, the Red Sox will introduce Miller to Fenway Park and a whole new world of possibility, one that may make the failures with the Tigers and Marlins distant memories. After 2 1/2 months of refining his skills and renewing his confidence, Miller has been summoned from Triple-A Pawtucket to start against the San Diego Padres.

“Obviously I’m looking forward to it a lot,'' said Miller, who was a teammate of Sox reliever Daniel Bard on the University of North Carolina team that went to the College World Series in 2006 and was drafted sixth overall by the Tigers that season, 22 places ahead of Bard. "I think I’ve been pitching well lately, so I’m just looking to carry it over and do the same thing here.”

If the Sox were looking to ease Miller in, they could not have chosen a more suitable opponent. The Padres are last in the National League West, have lost five in a row, and have scored the fewest runs in the majors leagues, an average of 3.3 runs per game. In 10 of their last 13 games, they have scored three runs or fewer.

The addition of highly touted rookie Anthony Rizzo, acquired from the Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, provided temporary relief -- Rizzo had a home run, triple and double in his first three games -- but since then, the left-handed slugging first baseman has just a single in his last 20 at-bats while striking out 8 times. Padres GM Jed Hoyer, a former Theo Epstein protege, had resisted calls to promote Rizzo from Triple-A, where he was tearing it up for Tucson (.365, 16 HRs and 63 RBIs in 52 games), but with the big-league club foundering as badly as it did, decided to give Rizzo a shot.

Miller, meanwhile, has shown a steady progression in Pawtucket, where in his last four starts, he had a 1.78 ERA (5 earned runs in 25 1/3 IP) while allowing just 17 hits, walking 3 and striking out 26. Control issues had plagued him throughout his stints with the Tigers and Marlins, as he averaged 5.3 walks per nine innings in his first five seasons, a number that climbed last season in Florida to 7.2, as he walked 26 batters in just 32 2/3 innings. It got no better in the minors last season, either, as he had a 1-8 record with a 6.01 ERA in Double-A Jacksonville.

Despite his performance, Miller entertained offers from several big-league clubs last winter before he and his agent, Mark Rodgers, elected to sign with the Red Sox. Miller took the unusual step of coming to the winter meetings in Orlando to meet personally with clubs, including Sox GM Theo Epstein. Other clubs offered major-league deals; the Sox offered him a minor-league contract, but persuaded him that he had the best chance of putting his career back on track with them.

They also included a provision in his contract that gave him the right to opt out of his deal with the Sox by June 15, which was last Wednesday, if they didn't call him up to the majors by then. The night before the deadline, Miller started for Pawtucket against Charlotte and allowed just a run on five hits in 5 1/3 innings while walking 1 and striking out 10. "I'm ready,'' he told reporters afterward.

The Sox agreed. Epstein had lunch on the 15th with Miller and Rodgers and informed the pitcher his next start would come at Fenway. “It wasn’t really much of a decision process,'' Miller said. "I was basically reassured by the Red Sox that good things were going to happen and they have, and I’m happy to still be here.”

On Monday, Miller takes his biggest step yet with the Sox.

“You certainly want to go when you’re throwing the ball well and I think that’s been the case lately, so what better time,'' he said. "I think we’ve got a good program in place and [I want to] stick to it and do the same thing here that I’ve been doing down there.

“Right now I’m confident with the way I’m throwing the ball and I’m just looking to keep it going ... I’ve put in a lot of work to get here, and I’m looking forward to carrying it over out there.”

ESPNBoston.com intern Darren Hartwell contributed to this report.