GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Live batting practice during spring training is far from a major event — unless Andrew Miller is pitching.
Miller was on the mound throwing to hitters for the first time this spring Monday morning as he attempts to prepare quicker than usual so he can compete in the World Baseball Classic next month.
Brandon Guyer was among a handful of hitters, including Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez, who had the unenviable task of facing Miller on a practice field adjacent to the team’s spring training complex.
All of the batters had the option of swinging. None of them did.
“I’ve always tracked (pitches), so it wasn’t going to matter who I was facing, but facing him, it only reassured I was going to do that,” Guyer said. “I probably had as good of a chance of hitting him if I was tracking or swinging, so I went the tracking route with him. He looked dirty, as he always does.”
Because he needs to be close to regular-season form to compete for Team USA when the WBC opens March 6, Miller is on a different regimen this spring. Rather than progressing slowly during the early portion of training camp like most, the left-hander is ramping up things.
“I’m not treating it like it’s that big of a difference,” Miller said. “I think physically I’ll do the same thing, I’ll just have more meaningful games earlier on. Spring training can go a lot of different ways, sometimes you don’t figure it out until the very end and a lot of times you figure it out right away.
“Playing in these (WBC) games, I hope I’m locked in and ready to go at the beginning because I’m doing it to win. That’s what I want to be a part of, a team that’s winning and doing well, so hopefully that’s where I’m at and there’s every reason to think I will be.”
Though the organization supports Miller’s decision to play for his country, there are understandable injury concerns, especially for pitchers, who are being asked to compete at a high level a month ahead of the regular season.
Losing Miller, arguably the game’s top reliever and a critical piece in the bullpen, would be devastating for Cleveland, which has been burned by a WBC-related injury before (Vinnie Pestano).
Manager Terry Francona said his “heart would be in his throat,” while Miller was away.
“I spent a lot of time talking to the trainers, to (pitching coach) Mickey (Callaway) about what guys have done in the past,” Miller said. “Who has had success doing it, who has ended up regretting it and getting hurt or whatever and trying to use all the information available. The most important thing for me is to help the Indians win games this year. That’s who is signing my paychecks, that’s where my loyalty lies, but at the same time, I think it’s a great opportunity and I think it’s actually a chance that it’s something I can get better from.
“I think the excitement of playing in those games, it will be nice to have that level of competition right out of the gate and kind of spice up spring training at this point in my career and I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully it’s something I can look back on and say I got better for it.”
Pitchers almost always throw mainly fastballs during the early portions of spring training, honing their breaking balls later. Miller will be doing the opposite to employ his knockout slider in the WBC, which some would say puts him in jeopardy.
“I’m aware of that,” he said. “Nobody knows ... anybody that claims to know exactly the combination that puts you at risk is ... I saw an article the other day that said high-fastball guys are the guys that tend to blow out most often, so nobody knows, everybody pretends to know. I’m going to go out there and I’m going to take care of myself off the field and do everything I can. I’m going to try to listen to my body and use these trainers and I think I’ll be OK. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think that was the case.
“Really, the most important thing is I’m here for the Cleveland Indians when it matters and I’ll do everything I can on that front and I think the positives outweigh the negatives. If I had a crystal ball, then I might make a different decision, but I don’t think anyone is going to bring one in and tell me what the case is going to be so I’m looking forward to it. I think to this point in time I feel great, so I’m going to keep going forward with it.”
Meanwhile back in Goodyear, the Indians will be holding their collective breath.