Cards hope a healthy Miller reverses recent relief trend
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals hope a healthy Andrew Miller can help reverse their recent luck with new relievers.
Coming off a series of injuries, Miller got a two-year deal with the Cardinals last month. Recent relief signings haven’t worked out too well for St. Louis — Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson and Greg Holland weren’t able to replicate their past success.
At the annual Cardinals Winter Warm Up on Saturday, team President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said he was enthused about Miller.
“He wants the ball,” Mozeliak said. “One of our stated goals this offseason was to improve our bullpen. Andrew Miller is one of the premier relievers in the major leagues, and his addition certainly strengthens our bullpen.
“He has pitched on the biggest stages in the world. He has pitched at an elite level. His character, his competitiveness and his leadership. All of this has led us to pursuing him this offseason,” he said.
Miller, a veteran of 13 seasons in the majors, has been one of baseball’s best left-handed relievers since converting to the role with Boston in 2012. He twice finished among the top 10 in American League Cy Young balloting while with the Yankees and Indians.
Being the closer is not something Miller is expecting or seeking this season with St. Louis. He said he can pitch anywhere and doesn’t mind that role.
“One thing that makes him unique among most relievers is that he doesn’t care where he pitches,” Mozeliak said. “He wants to pitch high leverage and when it matters the most whether it’s in the fourth inning, the seventh inning or the ninth.”
Miller agreed. He believes the whole bullpen should be that way.
“Hopefully as a group, that’s what we can kind of bring that to the table. We can be flexible as group and do whatever it takes to win,” Miller said. “That’s the mentality that we have.”
The Cardinals don’t have a clear closer at this point. Hard-throwing right-hander Jordan Hicks, who frequently tops 100 mph with his fastball, looms large as an option. Miller can do the job as well.
Miller pointed out there’s no designated setup man or closer in the minor leagues. Relievers learned that coming up, Miller said, and should bring that mindset to the big leagues.
“There’s value in knowing what inning you pitch, but I don’t think you need rigid structure roles,” Miller said. “Hopefully, we give him (manager Mike Shildt) a ton of flexibility. In an ideal world, there’s seven guys out there than can pitch to lefties or righties and can pitch early in the game or late in the game. Ideally, that’s what we give him.”
Miller was a key member of the Cleveland bullpen in 2016 when it advanced to the World Series. He was voted the MVP of the AL Championship Series that year, striking out 14 in 7 2-3 innings.
He was an All-Star in 2017. But he saw his ERA climb to 4.24 in 2018 with the Indians while battling hamstring, knee and shoulder issues that required three stints on the disabled list.
The 33-year-old Miller is coming off a season in which he was limited to 34 innings in 37 appearances because of those injuries.
The Cardinals are confident Miller is fine. Those health issues were resolved and St. Louis aggressively moved in the offseason to sign Miller.
“Given the time he missed and our due diligence on his medical, we felt confident he was going to be the Andrew Miller of two years ago and not the Andrew Miller of last year,” Mozeliak said. “He’s also someone who wants to compete for a winning club. He had other places to go. I think he was excited to compete in our division because of the teams and the lineups we face.”
For his part, Miller said he is good to go.
“I feel great,” Miller said. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work. It was a frustrating there for a while finding a plan but I feel great. I’m ready to go.”
The Cardinals went 88-74 last year and missed the playoffs for the third straight season.
Miller, who pitched for the Marlins in 2008-10 — mostly as a starter — said coming back to the National League won’t be a big deal.
“Honestly, the two leagues are probably more similar now than they’ve ever been,” Miller said. “For me as a reliever, it’s just about getting a guy out. It’s a lot of new faces and that’s always a challenge. As I’ve gotten older and have more experience and that works in my favor. I’m looking forward to it. Certainly this division, on paper, is pretty darn good.”
Hitting is not something Miller expects to do in the National League.
“I’ve got to bat, we’ve got big problems,” Miller laughed. “I’m not much of a hitter. I don’t expect that to be any positive contribution to the team.”
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