Miller's slider confounding opposing hitters

Miller's slider confounding opposing hitters

BOSTON -- The slider always has seemed to come easily for Andrew Miller, who relies on it as a trusted weapon. As the Yankees' left-hander continues to enjoy success in his first crack at the closing role, the pitch has been a nightmare for Major League hitters.

Entering play Saturday, Miller last allowed a hit off a slider last Aug. 22, when he was pitching for the Orioles. Since then, opponents were 0-for-42 with 33 strikeouts against the 170 sliders he had spun, missing with 51 of 81 swings (a 62.9 percent miss rate).

"The results have been good," Miller said. "Honestly, I'd like to locate it a little better than I have the last couple of times. That's kind of the nature of it. It's certainly a pitch that's pretty important for me; I think it's my best pitch. It's something I can rely on and something that's usually my go-to."

Though the Yankees never thought it necessary to make an official announcement, Miller's fastball-slider combination has slotted in nicely for the closer, as he had converted his first nine save opportunities entering play Saturday. He had allowed only nine baserunners while striking out 21 in his 12 1/3 scoreless innings.

"I think my two pitches play off each other pretty well," Miller said. "When I'm throwing my fastball a certain way, my slider is going to be better. It's not that my slider is actually acting better, it's the fact that I can locate my fastball in certain positions or get ahead in the count. I don't feel like it's significantly any different; I play with it, adjust it as we go, depending on the count or the swing.

"Honestly, a breaking ball is something that always came naturally to me. I struggled with the changeup as a starter, there were times where it came and went. But I've always been able to throw a breaking ball and fine-tune what I've got."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that Miller's experience pitching in high-leverage games over the last two seasons for the Red Sox and the Orioles probably helped him make the transition to the closing role, as well as his height (6-feet-7), which creates deception for hitters.

"I'm just glad I've been able to hold onto these games," Miller said. "I'm glad I'm off to a good start, glad we're off to a good start as a team, and we have a long way to go. But it's certainly better to start off this way than the other way."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.