Friday night I was fortunate enough to attend the series opener between the Tigers and Cardinals and witness Andrew Miller's major league debut as a starting pitcher. Like every other Tigers fan who has a genuine interest in the team, (and not some bandwagon law student fan who shows up in the third inning with their crazy-hot Chaldean girlfriend who is six inches taller than them gets to watch the game in better seats than mine and leave in the seventh inning. For the record I saw about 8 people from my school at Comerica Friday night in the situation I just outlined), I've been following Miller's progress throughout the minor leagues this season with great interest. I even went so far as to hire a "street urchin" to wire me reports detailing Miller's progress after each inning he pitched for the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Every five days I would don a smoking jacket, pack my finest pipe (one carved with an image of a Viking face on the front flanked by a topless woman on each side), wax my moustache and wait for the reports to roll in. Every half hour or so my "telex" machine would start pulsating and print out a message akin to this:
"Miller sends them down in order STOP Shutout through three innings STOP Looks like a bona fide, front of the rotation, major league twirler STOP."
Sure this was an extravagance I couldn't afford, but I didn't care because these reports pleased me, and if that meant I would have to sell a few of my organs to help pay for my summer classes then so be it. In a related note if you are reading this and are in need of a kidney, lung, or 80 percent of a liver just e-mail me for a great price. Any other body part is negotiable. Be forewarned though, I have the colon of an 80 year old man (I'm referring to my own colon and not the colon of an actual 80 year old man......wait why are we talking about colons? How did I get to this point......? Let's just move on and forget this even happened.)
I was hoping that Miller would somehow be able to make the team coming out of spring training but with the depth in the Tigers rotation and the organizations commitment to continue developing Miller as a starting pitcher instead of using him as a left handed reliever out of the bullpen to help replace the departed Jamie Walker, (a move I agreed with 100%), it appeared as though Miller would spend this whole season being groomed in the minors with the idea of him battling for one of the final spots in the rotation next spring, similar to Justin Verlander's career path the past couple of season's.
Then the injuries hit. First Kenny Rogers went down at the end of spring training with a torn artery in his pitching shoulder and early onset Alzheimer's disease (because he's old, get it, hahaha, I crack myself up sometimes, (wipes tear away from eye)). Rogers was immediately replaced in the rotation by journeyman minor leaguer and former Royals prospect Chad Durbin who, to his credit, had an outstanding season at Triple-A Toledo last year. Of course Durbin came out and immediately pitched like balls, sporting a 10.54 ERA after three starts and appearing completely overwhelmed. Being the passionate and reactionary fan that I am, this slow start by Durbin would not be tolerated. So I rounded up a bullhorn, a couple of friends and a group of homeless men armed with torches and marched to Comerica so I could demand that Miller be called up from the minors to replace Durbin. My cries fell on deaf ears however and Durbin was able to turn it around and pitch well enough over the next few weeks to justify keeping his spot in the rotation. The next starter to go down was Jeremy Bonderman who developed a blister on his pitching hand and was forced to miss a start against the Twins. I was hoping Andrew Miller would be called up for a chance to make his Major League Debut on national television for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, mainly so he could give the Twins a taste of the dominance he will have over them for the next ten seasons and to hear Jon Miller (no relation) talk in orgasmic tones (yeah picture the guy to the right talking while orgasming and see if you can keep down your breakfast, sorry about the mental imagery there....) about the future of the Tigers and the brilliance of Dave Dombrowski in turning the Tigers organization around so quickly. Instead, after an organizational meeting that apparently included Randy Smith in disguise, the Tigers decided that some guy named Virgil Vasquez was more major league ready than Miller and called him up to make his debut. 16 runs later the Tigers had suffered one of their most humiliating losses in some time and a shell-shocked Vasquez was sent back to the nether regions of hell so he could work on developing one major league caliber pitch, (o.k. that was a pretty harsh assessment, I'm sure Vasquez is better than he showed and he was certainly nervous as hell, but I demand perfection, as evidenced by the painstakingly, well-crafted, sentences, and appropriate, comma, use, on, my, website.) Next, Mike Maroth missed a start after contracting the "Monkeypox" on the same day Zach Miner was recalled to the majors to offer bullpen help during a doubleheader against the Red Sox. The timing of Miner's arrival and Maroth's subsequent illness seemed a little suspicious especially after John Paul Morosi wrote in his Tigers Notebook that Miner was seen carrying a small package of rodents from Cameroon into the visitor's clubhouse at Fenway that morning. Miner filled in ably for the Tigers that afternoon and I was beginning to accept the fact that Miller would be stuck in Double-A for the rest of the season. Then, later that evening I was watching ESPN and saw on the crawl across the bottom of the screen that Bonderman had been moved to the 15-day DL and Miller was being called up to start Friday evening against the Cardinals. I immediately knew I had to attend this game, so the next afternoon my sister and I went to Comerica and picked up some standing room tickets.
That night I attended the game with my friend Matt, my sister and her boyfriend Patrick from St. Louis and stood against the wall behind the visitors dugout, which provided a pretty kick-ass and up close view for 15 dollar tickets. In between the barrage of runs scored by the Tigers, Miller was more than impressive in pitching six scoreless innings, surrendering four hits, while walking three and striking out two. A few things that stood out about Miller were:
1: His composure. When he walked Rolen to load the bases in the first inning I was bracing myself for the makings of big inning. However Miller got Ryan Ludwick to harmlessly pop-up to second base to end the threat and from then on Miller seemed to settle in, pitch with confidence, and had the airs of someone who was a veteran and not a rookie a year removed from pitching in the College World Series.
2: I was surprised at his velocity as given by the stadium scoreboard. I was under the impression that Miller pitched in the mid to upper 90's with his fastball, but Friday evening he only cracked 90 maybe a dozen times in nearly a hundred pitches. I don't know if the stadium radar gun was off or if I was mistaken in my understanding of Miller's velocity. Seeing as how I'm completely infallible I leaning towards the former rather than the latter, but if anyone has a definitive answer on this please let me know in the comments, because that would save me precious seconds over doing a simple Google search.
3: Last year Miller always struck me as one of those pudgy kids in Little League that wear baggy jerseys to hide their fat and balloon to 220 pound, balding slobs five years after high school ends because they've ceased to do anything remotely athletic. However Miller looked positively gaunt during last nights game. His jersey was hanging off of his body and he looked like a little kid walking around in his dad's clothes. They might want to get him checked for Crohn's disease or intestinal parasites or something before he wastes away to nothing. Also, let it be written that I loved the fact that he went with the three quarter length sleeve undershirt, it's the look I would go with if I were a pitcher and has shades of Matt Anderson in it.....hopefully that's where the similarities between Anderson and Miller end.
So where do I stand after seeing Miller's first start in person? Well I think I'll be telling my children, (or if I never have children, which is a strong possibility, I'll be telling the kids by the elementary school playground and the local community swimming pool about this....at least until the police show up) about witnessing Miller's first start. By my rudimentary understanding of sabermetrics I'm projecting Miller's career to exceed Randy Johnson's Hall of Fame career as a best case scenario or be in line with Mark Langston at worst. Are these predictions completely irrational based on a small sample size of six innings in major league debut? Absolutely, but this kind of unbridled optimism is what makes baseball so much fun to follow.