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Indians Indians Archive Adam Miller Back on the Mound
Written by Al Ciammiachella

Al Ciammiachella

AdamMillerAlex White violently shook his arm on the Progressive Field mound, obviously in pain. White had just delivered a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds in his third major league start, and something was clearly wrong. White remained in the game for the rest of the inning, but was removed after he finished the third inning. Indians fans everywhere were left wondering what was wrong with their young fireballer. After the game, word came down from the front office. White would miss at least 8-12 weeks with a strained middle finger. An injured middle finger. For most fanbases, it would be nothing more than an unfortunate injury to a top prospect; a blow to a contending team early in the year no doubt, but nothing to be too worried about. For Indians fans, the injury strikes fear in our hearts because we’ve been down this road before. We’ve seen a 1st round draft pick suffer a finger injury, and it has not gone well. It’s the story of Adam Miller.

The Adam Miller story is well known to most Indians fans by now. He was drafted in the 1st round in 2003 out of a Texas high school and was immediately one of the top prospects in the Indians organization. Miller was rated as one of the top-100 prospects in all of baseball by Baseball America from 2005-2009. He dominated every level of the minors, and everyone who saw him pitch labeled him as a future ace. Sports Illustrated named him part of their “dream rotation” back in 2007, along with Tim Lincecum, Cole Hamels, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Phil Hughes. He was seen as the leader of the “wave of arms” that would soon be cresting on the shores of Lake Erie. But Miller’s body began to betray him.

Miller’s injury history is long, but distinguished. I’ll briefly rehash it here:

  • 2005: Miller is limited to 70 1/3 IP with right elbow soreness
  • May 2007: Miller first injured his middle finger on his throwing hand while pitching for Buffalo
  • Spring 2008: Miller has blister issues in spring training on the same middle finger he struggled with in 2007
  • May 2008: Miller hashis first surgery on his right middle finger, due to the blisters on the tip ofthe finger
  • April 2009: Miller tries to pitch in spring training, but is forced to have another surgery on his middle finger, this time on the tendon
  • July 2009: Miller has a second surgery on the same tendon in the same finger
  • December 2009: Miller has a third surgery on the same tendon in the same finger (seriously)

So to sum it all up, we have an elbow issue and four surgeries on the middle finger of his pitching hand over what should have been four seasons of baseball. There were some winterball stints mixed in there, an inning in the instructional leagues, and some innings in minor league spring training games here and there, but for all intents and purposes, Miller hadn’t thrown a real inning in a real game since 2008. On April 30, 2011, that long layoff finally ended when Miller took the mound for the Kinston Indians.

It wasn’t a great outing, as Miller gave up 4 runs (3 earned) in his one inning of work. He walked one, struck out one, and gave up a HR, and ended up taking the loss in the game for Kinston. But the result wasn’t the important thing; not by a long shot. The important thing was that Miller was pitching again. Not just throwing a bullpen, not just throwing simulated games in Arizona, but actually back and pitching against a real opponent in a real game, with real fans. Miller went on to make 8 appearances for the K-Tribe, totaling 11 IP. He gave up 6 earned runs, struck out 14 and walked 5. On May 28, he was promoted to AA Akron.  He picked up a win in his first appearance, throwing a scoreless 9th inning in a 1-1 game that the Aeros ended up winning in the bottom of the inning.

I caught up with Miller when he was still with Kinston, and we talked about just how great it was that he was back pitching in real game action again. “It’s awesome,” said Miller. “It’s just good to show that it’s a success so far, despite the setbacks, its rewarding to get back on the field. Technically I threw last year in instructs, but it’s not the same feel. It’s a game, but it’s not full pressure. Being back with actual fans…it’s great to be back with a team around the guys again.”

Miller_Finger_2_800x671Miller is now a two-pitch pitcher, strictly throwing his fastball and his slider. His fastball has been consistently between 91-93 MPH, and is touching 95. “My mechanics are starting to feel a lot better now. The fastball isn’t quite what it was. Will I ever get to high 90’s or 100? I don’t know, but I don’t really care. It’s moving more than it was, and as long as I get my slider back, that’s the main thing. The fastball I’m good with.” The fastball velocity and command will come as Miller cleans up and refines his mechanics as he simply gets used to pitching again after such a long layoff.

The difficult thing is going to be restoring his slider, which was always his swing-and-miss offering and a true plus pitch. It’s a difficult pitch to throw with his finger the way it is (see pictures). As you can see, the tip of the finger is permanently bent, and he cannot straighten the entire digit. So the slider is going to be a difficult pitch for him to get a feel for at times. “My slider is actually the same speed (as it was before the injury). There are times when I start getting around it and it gets a little slurvy and it hangs, but that’s just a part of getting it back to normal. The feel for the slider has been the hardest part about coming back. There’s times where it’s back where it’s pretty much normal, and there’s times where it’s just not there.” In Kinston, Miller was able to pitch effectively by commanding his fastball in the zone even if the slider wasn’t working. But the higher he gets up the organizational ladder the more difficult that will be.

Miller’s goal is still to pitch in Cleveland someday, and he understands how much Cleveland fans Miller_finger_800x757are pulling for him and want to see him do well. “Getting up there would be not only a good thing for me, but for the people that have stuck with me for this long. Going to different stadiums, all the Indians fans there talking to you is great.” He really wants to pay back the organization for all that they’ve invested in him, and pitching for the Indians would be a huge deal for Miller. If you get out to a game and see Miller in the bullpen, let him know you're pulling for him; he really appreciates all the fan support over all these years as he's struggled to realize his dream of pitching in the major leagues.

I asked Miller if he had spoken with White after his injury, and he said that he hadn’t. “I don’t know what part of the finger it was…I came back, they had said 8-12 weeks when I initially did mine but I was out for about 6 weeks. The good thing is that after it happened, he continued to pitch and threw another 36 pitches, so that’s always a plus. When I did mine, there was no more throwing. I wasn’t going to be throwing anymore pitches that day, that’s for sure.” For Indians fans, hearing that White’s injury felt different than Miller’s has to be a huge relief.  And if that doesn’t help, try this next quote from Miller; “When I first came back, I was throwing better than before I got hurt because I got to rest my shoulder.” So if White does get to come back and pitch down the stretch, he might be even better than the first time around with the Indians.

One silver lining in the litany of finger injuries isthat Miller’s elbow is now 100% after all of the “rest” he’s had. Miller had some elbow problems earlier in his career, but those are hopefully behind him and he is now fully healthy. “The Indians have been good with the program they have going, and my elbow and shoulder are both 100% healthy.” He may never be the triple-digit Texas flamethrower he once was, but if he can manage to keep his right arm intact from shoulder to fingertip, he can still be an effective reliever. The key is going to be regaining the command and effectiveness of his slider, and that is something that can only come with time. There are going to be outings where the pitch is sharp and effective, and there are going to be outings where the only thing he can consistently throw for strikes is his
fastball. The goal for Miller is to get a little bit better and a little bit more consistent every time he steps on the mound, and from there the results will

In Akron, Miller is now closer to Cleveland both in geography and on the organizational ladder. He’s made 4 appearances for the Aeros, throwing 5 innings and giving up 4 ER. He’s struck out 3 and walked 2, and aside from one poor outing where he gave up 3 ER in one inning, he’s been solid. He’s an extreme longshot to pitch in the majors this year, but if he can work his way up to Columbus and pitch effectively there by the end of the year, he has a great shot to be a part of the major league bullpen next year. It would be a dream come true for both Miller and Indians fans to see him on the mound at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, a dream that seemed nearly impossible two years ago.

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