Andrew Miller will take the mound tonight in Durham, NC roughly 12 miles from where he was the top pitcher in college baseball in 2006 at the University of North Carolina.
(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
On Friday afternoon, Miller walked to the ballpark in a camouflage Tar Heels hat and is clearly proud of his alma mater, but the 26-year-old pitcher grew up in Gainesville, Florida rooting for another collegiate powerhouse.
“The town pretty much revolves around the University of Florida,” Miller said. “I’m a season ticket holder for football and basketball and that’s some of the most fun stuff that I get to do when I go home. To this day I’m a Gators fan. I spent the first 18 years of my life there and I live there now in the off-season, so that allows me to be a Gator fan and a Tar Heel.”
Miller was 13-2 with a 2.48 ERA in his final year at North Carolina and his earned run average after 10 starts with the PawSox is nearly identical at 2.47. Andrew is holding opponents to a .160 batting average – the lowest of any qualifying pitcher in the International League – but control has been a problem as Miller ranks second in the league in walks with 34 in 47.1 IP.
His highest percentage of walks has come in the first inning (12 in 9 IP), so before Miller’s last start, pitching coach Rich Sauveur suggested that he change his pre-game routine.
“We talked after his previous outing about how he felt so good in the 4th or 5th innings but his pitch count was already killed,” Sauveur said. “He’s had 3 or 4 outings like that. So he said that he’d like to have a higher pitch count and I said, ‘I can’t do that, but what we could do is try the routine of Clay Buchholz.’ Clay gets ready in the bullpen, sits down for 3 to 5 minutes, then he gets back up and pretty much throws an inning as if he’s in the game. So that’s what we did. Andrew got ready and then he threw an inning in the bullpen before taking the mound in the game. It looked good didn’t it?”
“We’re trying to get the first inning out of the way in the bullpen and by the time I enter the game, my body will think it’s the second inning,” Miller said. “We’re trying to play tricks on it and get up to game speed in the bullpen so when I go out there, it’s not the first time that I’m making adjustments on the mound.”
The experiment worked perfectly last Sunday at McCoy Stadium as Miller threw 7 shutout innings, allowing 1 hit and 2 walks while striking out 4.
“I got early contact and threw a lot of strikes and when you do that it keeps your defenders on their toes and they made one incredible play after another,” Miller said. “I was able to throw all three of my pitches for strikes for most of the game. It’s not always going to be that simple or easy, but I’m looking to build off of it.”
It will be interesting to see what kind of reception Miller gets when he takes the mound on Friday night. While Durham Bulls Athletic Park is close to the University of North Carolina, it is much closer to archrival Duke.
But Andrew is quick to point out that Blue Devils fans should given him a nice reception too.
“My wife went to Duke,” he said with a laugh.
The PawSox will look for their 4th straight win as they face the Bulls on Friday night at 7:05. I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.
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