In O's debut, Miller rises to the occasion
BALTIMORE -- In his first appearance for the Orioles on Friday night after being traded from Boston, Andrew Miller ran in from the bullpen to a rousing ovation from the 39,487 fans at Camden Yards that was as much pleasing as it was perplexing, the left-hander said.
"The reception was pretty cool," Miller said. "It was a little overwhelming for a moment. I had to step off [the mound] and calm down a little bit. It was pretty neat. Hopefully, I can live up to expectations."
Miller was well aware that the cheers for him dovetailed as Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen left after walking Seattle newcomer Austin Jackson with one out in the eighth. The three lefties -- Chen, Miller and closer Zach Britton -- defeated the Mariners, 2-1, limiting them to five hits.
"[Chen] deservedly got a huge one. I probably undeservedly got one," Miller said. "I'm an anonymous middle-inning reliever. This is far too much attention for me. I'm just looking forward to settling in."
Miller and the Orioles, though, are anticipating this same kind of success. It was win No. 61 on Friday night as the O's maintained their tentative hold on first place in the American League East. They are well-positioned for the final two months and 54 games, but it's undoubtedly going to be a fight to the finish, with the Blue Jays lapping at their heels and the Yankees still within striking distance. Both rivals lost on Friday night.
Miller pitched out of the inning, but not without trepidation. After Dustin Ackley reached on a fielder's choice, Ackley stole second and scampered to third when the throw by catcher Caleb Joseph skipped into center field for an error. Miller then carefully pitched to Robinson Cano, walking the All-Star second baseman on a full-count pitch.
"You never want to give up walks," Miller said. "On the other hand, you don't want to give it up to a hitter of that caliber, either. The fact that I was able to get out of it makes it feel that much better. Were there nerves? If somebody tells you there weren't any nerves, they'd be lying to you."
At that point, Miller had faced his two left-handed hitters, but on this night, O's manager Buck Showalter decided to let Miller also pitch to the righty-swinging Kendrys Morales, who grounded into another forceout to end the inning.
Showalter declined afterwards to commit to using Miller in that fashion in the immediate future.
"Oh, I don't know, let's see what tomorrow brings," the veteran manager said. "I've got a lot of good arms down there that the organization has given us. We'll continue to move the load around. You know, Andrew gets here and automatically becomes the leader in appearances [51 to Britton's 50]. We have some people down there capable of pitching to more than one hitter, and he is one of them."
After trading incumbent closer Jim Johnson and the $10 million on his contract to the A's in the offseason, Orioles president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has been scrambling to rebuild the bullpen. Britton replaced Tommy Hunter in that integral role and now has 22 of the team's 35 saves. Johnson had 101 saves alone for Baltimore from 2012-13. This year, Johnson was a washout in Oakland, and he was formally released on Friday.
Johnson lives in Sarasota, Fla., where the Orioles have their training complex, and a reunion of the former closer and the O's could be in the offing. Showalter said he'd been advised by club officials because of some contractual considerations to be careful talking about it. That didn't stop him, though.
"I don't mind talking about it," Showalter said before the game. "We like Jimmy. He pitched real well for us. I think he's on his way to Sarasota. I know [Minor League pitching rehab coordinator] Scottie McGregor is real close with him, and if he becomes completely available, I'm sure a lot of people would have interest in him, including us. But we're not allowed to talk about him and I just did. I'm in trouble again."
In the meantime, Duquette picked up Miller from the Red Sox at the non-waiver Trade Deadline on Thursday for Minor League left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez as Boston cleaned house. Within a week, the Red Sox traded pitchers Jake Peavy, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Felix Doubront, who all pitched well for them in last fall's six-game World Series victory over the Cardinals. Miller missed the postseason because of a left foot injury and accompanying surgery.
He came to the Orioles with experience, and he's familiar with how things work in the tough AL East. When Miller took the mound under pressure on Friday night, it was his 17th appearance lifetime in an Orioles game and eighth at Camden Yards, where he now owns a 1.38 ERA.
He's no longer an Orioles nemesis. No wonder the Baltimore fans were now glad to see him -- on their side.
"I was not surprised in a sense, because I've seen this kind of thing plenty from these fans," he said. "These fans are great. It's an old baseball town. The places that have had the history of baseball like this, the fans are always going to be great. I've played in some good ones. That's my point. Even the old ladies who have been here grew up on hometown baseball, and that makes it special. As overwhelming as it was for me to hear that incredible response, welcoming me, it's probably unnerving for the opposing team as well."