For many the holiday season is a reminder to believe, to have faith in something that may not always be tangible or able to be seen. While no one sang ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ or other holiday classics, the St. Louis Cardinals and newly signed free agent pitcher Andrew Miller expressed a mutual belief in each other as the two sides discussed their agreement on a two-year contract.
“Part of the sales pitch from the Cardinals standpoint is the confidence they have in working with me,” Miller said. “That was really important to me. I’m excited to get to work with their medical and training staff and really be on top of it. My concern is being the pitcher I am and not the health side of things.”
In the four seasons prior to last year, Miller threw in a total of 260 games. But last season, the 33-year old left-hander appeared in only 37 games for Cleveland last season. He had three stints on the disabled list as he dealt with a strained left hamstring, right knee injury, and external impingement in his left shoulder. An external impingement deals with the rotator cuff, while internal impingements deal with other structures within the shoulder joint.
“Last year was a grind and I feel like we’ve put together a plan and I’m in a great place now and I’m confident that it’s not going to be an issue,” Miller said. “There’s no doubt that the injuries I had last year were a pattern of me trying to figure out my mechanics and work with my knee. Like I said, it was a grind. There were times I felt like myself and there were other times it was a real struggle. I think we figured it out. I have all the confidence in the world that we’re going to get better.”
“You don’t engage in these types of conversations if you think there’s risk or serious doubt of him being able to perform at the level we believe in,” stated John Mozeliak, President of Baseball Operations for the Cardinals.
That confidence from the Cardinals is based in part on Dr. George Paletta, their head orthopedic surgeon. He treated Miller when the lefty was part of the Miami Marlins organization.
“George has a lot of confidence in where Andrew is at this point and believes the knee is a non-issue moving forward,” Mozeliak said.
Since moving to a relief role in 2012, Miller has held opponents to a .179 batting average and of the 1636 plate appearances against him, 598 of the batters have struck out (37%).
Miller has recorded more than 10 saves in a season only twice in his career, closing out 36 games for the New York Yankees in 2015 and then 12 the following year in combined games for New York and Cleveland. But his versatility to pitch in all situations has contributed to his teams appearing in the post season each of the last five years.
“We haven’t talked to the Cardinals about closing–that’s not important to me,” Miller said. “I want to win. I’ve been on a lot of teams with great bullpens and been very fortunate to be a part of that and realize that it’s not always the 9th inning guy that has the most important role or gets to be the guy that saves the day. We all want to contribute in a positive way and we all certainly have our egos and want to be the guy that goes out and performs, but I want to be on a team that wins and I’m happy to be flexible.
“I look forward to it. It’s easy for me to look at the roster. I know some of the people in the bullpen and I certainly know the talent of the guys I don’t know. I can’t wait to be a part of it. As far as me having a sticking point on what role I have or what not, that’s non-existent. I truly mean that.”
Describing that Miller will be used in high-leverage situations, Mozeliak stopped short of declaring that the role of closer is an open competition in the Cardinals bullpen.
“It gives us a lot more flexibility in how we think about our bullpen,” Mozeliak said. “We feel we have multiple different options to thinking about closing a game–that’s not to say Mr. Miller won’t get opportunities to close a game, but it’s going to be used in situations where we feel we can most take advantage of his skills.”
It also didn’t hurt that St. Louis recently traded for Paul Goldschmidt.
“When the Cardinals call you take notice,” Miller said. “The reputation is incredible that they have and they’ve earned that. The history, reaching back to when the club was started to certainly the history that I know since the time that I’ve been alive. I can look at the roster–the opportunities to work with guys like Yadi, the guys on the list. I know Goldschmidt from the WBC and what not. Any team that goes out and gets Goldy, I know what their intentions are. Like I said, you’re not going to find anybody to say anything negative about the Cardinals. I respect that and want to be a part of that.”
photo credit: Orlando Ramirez, John Hefti, Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports