Prepping for October, Miller passes key test

Relief ace readying for high-leverage postseason innings, escapes bases-loaded jam vs. Angels

September 22nd, 2017

ANAHEIM -- In a burst of six pitches, looked like himself again. That was arguably the most important takeaway from Thursday afternoon at Angel Stadium, where the Indians continued their march to the postseason with yet another victory in this remarkable run.

The 4-1 win over the Angels marked the 27th win in a span of 28 games for Cleveland, which is trying to chase down the Dodgers for baseball's best record, but is also using these final regular-season games to prepare for October. One paramount goal down the stretch is getting Miller -- the postseason's most formidable weapon one year ago -- primed for as many high-leverage innings as possible en route to the World Series.

Miller passed an important test on Thursday.

"It was kind of that Miller we're used to seeing," Tribe reliever Dan Otero said.

The Indians, who are one game behind the Dodgers for MLB's best record, were without Miller for most of August and then for the first two weeks of September due to a right knee issue. The American League Central champions still managed to rattle off wins at a rapid rate, with a bullpen that had the depth to pick up the slack. That group's confidence is climbing higher with every outing Miller logs.

Last year, Miller set single-postseason relief records for innings (19 1/3), strikeouts (30) and multi-inning outings (10).

Indians manager Terry Francona wanted to give Miller a multi-inning appearance on Thursday, but that plan was scrapped when the lefty dealt with a bases-loaded jam and fired 26 pitches in the seventh inning against the Angels. In a way, the trouble encountered by Miller was a positive. Clean innings in a low-stress setting do not really simulate an October environment. Being forced to escape against a Halos team trying to stay in the Wild Card hunt does.

"That was actually really good in a way," Francona said. "He's got his hands full, but then he reached back and started competing."

Working with a three-run lead, Miller opened the seventh by striking out with a slider over the outside corner. The Angels slugger did not like the call, but the backdoor slider was close enough for catcher to frame it effectively. Then Miller walked , allowed an infield single to and issued another free pass to to load the bases.

That prompted pitching coach Mickey Callaway to jog out to the mound for a chat.

"I think that was really good for him to have to get in that situation," Callaway said. "Knowing the game's on the line, and he was deep in his pitch count already for an inning."

The next batter, C.J. Cron, saw three pitches. The last one in that sequence was an elevated 95-mph fastball that breezed by Cron's bat.

"Once it kind of clicked for him, it was like, 'All right,'" Indians closer said. "We're used to seeing that."

followed Cron, and was also set down on three pitches. Miller ended that battle with a slider that darted low and inside and past Maldonado's bat.

"That's the Andrew Miller that I think you're going to see in the playoffs," Callaway said. "One that can rip on a slider and get it where he wants to."

Miller said Thursday's results were not ideal, but he was pleased with the end result.

"I'll take going through that experience," Miller said. "Overall, I think it's still an important step in the right direction."