BOSTON -- Last season, Andrew Miller appeared to have finally crossed the threshold from big tease to effective big league pitcher, overcoming the control issues that had undermined the great stuff that made Detroit choose him sixth overall in the 2006 draft.
But three weeks into this season, gale warnings have been posted from Block Island to Cape Ann. Miller’s control issues, at least early on, have returned with a vengeance. He has walked six batters in just four innings, which translates to a walks-per-nine-innings ratio of 13.50, the highest in the major leagues of anyone who has pitched at least three innings.
On Sunday night, Miller walked Lorenzo Cain on four pitches to force in the deciding run in Kansas City’s 5-4 win in 10 innings. That was one of two walks issued by Miller in the inning.
Last season, Miller was money against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .149 average, with 33 strikeouts and 10 walks in 102 plate appearances. This season, the early returns have been messy: three hits in seven at-bats (.429 average), plus an additional two walks in a total of nine plate appearances.
For now, Miller is the only lefty the Sox have in the bullpen. Craig Breslow begins a rehab assignment Tuesday in Portland, is scheduled to go again Friday for Pawtucket, and then will be re-evaluated. Franklin Morales, whom the Sox would like to stretch out as a starter, was supposed to pitch Wednesday in Portland, but he had some soreness in his left pectoral muscle and was pushed back to Friday in Pawtucket.
In addition, Joel Hanrahan threw a bullpen session Monday and is scheduled to throw another Wednesday. If all goes well, he too will go on a rehab assignment this weekend. The bullpen could soon need some pruning.
“There’s a lot to contend with there,’’ Farrell said when asked whether Miller’s mechanics are related to his control problems. “You’re talking about a guy with long limbs (Miller is 6-foot-7); timing is critical. With the exception of the game with Tampa, he’s come in with kind of his back against the wall, whereas in spring training it’s just: Here, go get your work in.
“So the more frequency we can bring him in, if we’ve got a game where there’s some room to keep the consistency of appearances, that’s what he needs. He’ll get a little side; that’s where you’ll see him miss with pitches to the arm side, or he’ll yank balls down and in to righties. There’s no denying the stuff; he needs more regular work.’’