"In my mind, yes," Miller said. "I think I came a long way even from my first start in spring. I've been working mechanically on trying to get a feel of where I need to be, and today it worked out."
He may be one of the best bargains. Miller, 30, underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery in late September 2005, and made five rehab starts in September 2006 for the Cubs. A 16-game winner in 2001 with Houston, Miller is close to that form. He's not overpowering with 90-plus mph fastballs, but may be a better pitcher. Saturday's outing meant a lot.
"I worked hard to get to where I'm at now," Miller said. "I wasn't sure how it would turn out. After today, after how I felt, I know I'm stepping in the right direction and I'm able to get back to where I want to be."
"He's a professional guy out there," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He uses all his pitches, changes speeds, pitches to both sides of the plate. About the only thing I can say today is he only threw 65, 70 pitches, but I wanted to get [Angel] Guzman in the ballgame. Both of them pitched very well."
What was also encouraging for Miller was that he felt strong at the end of his five innings, and could've gone longer. He threw 68 pitches in the game, 42 strikes, and said he never felt as good last year as he did after this outing.
Miller and Mark Prior are the two candidates for the one vacancy in the Cubs rotation. Prior will get another Cactus League start Wednesday against Colorado. Miller now has totaled 17 1/3 innings in Cactus League play, has a 3.63 ERA and walked only four. Prior has pitched 7 1/3 innings, has a 9.82 ERA and has walked seven.
"We're going to wait until Wednesday or Thursday, and we'll have a decision coming," Piniella said. "[Miller] certainly didn't do anything to hurt himself out there."
Which is why he appears to be the leader for the job. It's nice to have some competition.
"He was crisp today and he came out throwing from the first inning," Piniella said. "We don't need to back him off. Remember, he's going to be the fifth guy out of the box, so he'll have more time than anybody else. The next time out with Miller we can let him pitch as long as need be."
Wait -- Miller is the fifth guy? Piniella quickly corrected himself to say Miller is competing for the fifth spot.
"Let's leave it as the fifth starter will have more time," Piniella said.
Two hole: Cubs players will have to check the lineup every day. Piniella plans on rotating five different players in the No. 2 spot. The candidates include Jacque Jones, Ryan Theriot, Matt Murton, Mark DeRosa and Cesar Izturis.
"I don't know if we'll settle on one guy April 1," Piniella said. "We'll try things, and whatever works for us the best, that's what we'll do."
All Piniella is looking for is someone who can hit a fastball, be patient, and hit the ball the other way to help advance the runner.
Right at home: Wrigley Field has a unique feel. Just ask Ernie Banks, who was talking to Cubs pitcher Jason Marquis about the ballpark.
"[Marquis] said, 'I like the mound, and what I like is that when I'm on the mound and looking at the catcher, it looks closer because of the seats behind home plate,'" Banks said of a conversation with Marquis. "It makes him feel comfortable, like he doesn't have such a long throw. It seems shorter."
"The backstop is so close, it appears you're closer to the hitter and you think you're on top of the hitter a little more, as opposed to a place like St. Louis or other places where there's more space and foul ground," Marquis said.
Plus, the area behind home plate dips so there's an illusion that the catcher is much closer than 60 feet, 6 inches.
Marquis said he tries to focus on the glove -- that's his target. Still, sometimes the backdrop changes.
"For example in Spring Training, you throw bullpens, live batting practices, and you've got the cage behind the catcher," Marquis said. "The first time I stepped on the mound, it was like, whoa, it looked further than 60 feet, 6 inches. You get adjusted as time goes on."
And if Wrigley has a different feel, and Marquis likes it, he'll take it.
"If it's an advantage, so be it," he said.
Extra bases: The Cubs and Angels will use a designated hitter Sunday. Expect to see Cliff Floyd as the DH for the Cubs. Floyd started in right Saturday against the Giants rather than skipping the game against lefty Barry Zito. "He needed to play," Piniella said. ... Aramis Ramirez had his right wrist wrapped early Saturday but said it was just a little tight. He was hit there earlier this spring. It didn't bother him in the second inning when Ramirez led off with his fifth spring homer, off Zito. ... Neal Cotts threw two innings Friday in a Minor League game, his first action, and is expected to pitch Sunday, which would be his first Cactus League action since March 19. Cotts is the designated left-handed long man in the Cubs 'pen. ... Miller did not walk a batter, and it was the 17th time in the last 18 games that the Cubs starter has walked two or less. ... Alfonso Soriano carries a big stick. He swings a 35-inch, 33-ounce bat, and doesn't change or go lighter as the season progresses. ... The Cubs' food drive to benefit Paz de Cristo in Mesa raised more than $12,000 and 1,500 pounds of food.
On deck: The Cubs play host to the Angels on Sunday at HoHoKam Park at 3:05 p.m. CT. Left-hander Ted Lilly is slated to start for Chicago and make his fifth Cactus League appearance and fourth start. The Angels will counter with Ervin Santana.