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Indians Extra

Jim Ingraham: Andrew Miller's return to DL a painful blow to Indians bullpen

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    FILE --Indians reliever Andrew Miller reacts as he leaves a game against the Chicago Cubs last Wednesday at Wrigley Field.

    AP

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    Indians reliever Andrew Miller pitches against the Orioles on Aug. 17, 2018, at Progressive Field. Miller went on the disabled list Wednesday for the third time this season.

    AP

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There’s an old saying in baseball — or at least there should be — that goes like this: The stiffs never get hurt.

It’s always the guys you can’t do without.

The replaceable guys are iron horses. The indispensable guys are porcelain ponies.

Andrew Miller is the Indians’ Indispensable Guy. Now Andrew Miller is hurt.

Again.

At the worst possible time. Well, OK, maybe not the absolute worst possible time. But you can see it from here. Its name is “October,” and if Miller keeps going like this, he’s going to miss that, too.

He’s already missed most of May, all of June and all of July. In August: He pitched! But only in 10 of the 28 games the Indians will play this month, which ends Friday.

On Wednesday the Indians placed Miller on the disabled list, where he seems to have a time share.

It’s the third time this season the Indians’ Most Indispensable Guy has been unavailable.

Miller has been diagnosed with a left shoulder external impingement, an injury which leaves Indians manager and bullpen connoisseur Terry Francona with an internal bullpen impingement — and there’s October, sitting on the horizon.

“He has a little bit of swelling in his bursa sac, so they injected it and that will hopefully knock it right out,” said Professor Hopeful. “But it was the right thing to do … even when it’s maybe not convenient, you need to do the right thing.”

In 2016, when Miller was the Indians’ bullpen King Kong, he pitched in roughly half (26) of the 57 regular-season games the Indians played after acquiring him in a midseason trade with the Yankees. He was 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA and averaged 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

In the 2016 postseason, Miller went from lineup road grader to postseason punch-in-the-nose. He appeared in 10 of the Indians’ 14 postseason games and had a 1.40 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 19 innings.

In the American League Championship Series against Toronto, he pitched in four of the five games, tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings on three hits, with 14 strikeouts and no walks and was named the MVP of the series.

THAT’S an Indispensable Guy.

That’s the guy the Indians have played most of the 2018 season without. You can win the flophouse AL Central Division without elite Miller, but running with the big dogs in October without him?

Godspeed, Terry Francona.

“Sometimes things happen, so you just do the best you can,” said Mr. Roll With The Punches. “He’s not going to quit and we’re not going to quit, either. You make adjustments when you have to.”

Andrew Miller’s employers have been doing that for over 10 years.

This is the third time Miller has been on the disabled list this season, and the 10th time he’s been on the DL since 2008. Conductor, a little misery music, please:

  • 2008 — right patella tendinitis.
  • 2009 — right oblique.
  • 2012 — left hamstring.
  • 2013 — left foot injury.
  • 2015 — left forearm.
  • 2017 — right patella tendinitis.
  • 2017 — right patella tendinitis.
  • 2018 — left hamstring.
  • 2018 — right knee inflammation.
  • 2018 — left shoulder impingement.

Other than that, it’s been Iron Horse City for the lights-out lefty with a slider so lethal it has been known to bring left-handed hitters to tears.

The question for Francona and the Indians now becomes: Now what?

Answer: Now nothing.

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Although Miller has appeared in 27 games this year he’s mostly been a non-entity. His 3.38 ERA is his highest since he became a full-time reliever in 2012. Most of his appearances have consisted of him trying to ramp up to peak Miller, but he never quite got there before the next injury hit.

Is there enough time for Miller to get healthy and become Miller once again in the postseason? Even Francona doesn’t know the answer to that.

“Once we get to Sept. 1, we’re just going to go off Andrew,” he said of the Miller Vigil. “We’re going to do what’s right by him. We’ll update you as we go. We just don’t know what that is.”

The Indians’ bullpen Big Three in 2016, the last time they made it to the World Series, was Miller, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw.

Update: Miller is thrice-DL’d in Cleveland, Allen is having the worst year of his career and Shaw is in Colorado with a Rocky Mountain high 6.16 ERA.

Scary times for Francona, who is now a bullpen maestro without an orchestra.

Right now, the Indians’ bullpen consists of Brad Hand on first violin, and then duck and cover. Teams with weak bullpens don’t have a long shelf life in October.

Francona, who knows that better than anyone, has to hope for a bullpen miracle somewhere over the rainbow. Because …

Tito, we’re not in 2016 anymore.

Contact Jim Ingraham at (440) 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.


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