Tribe lefty uses high-spin slider to record each of his 5 strikeouts in Game 1 win over Jays
By Andrew Simon
When Andrew Miller entered Game 1 of the American League Championship Series from the Indians' bullpen on Friday night, there wasn't much doubt about how the 6-foot-7 left-hander would attack the Blue Jays' hitters.
Over the course of a dominant 2016 season, Miller had gone to his devastating slider about 60 percent of the time. The tough lefty didn't deviate from that pattern in the ALCS opener, but as Statcast™ shows, he did put a little something extra on his go-to pitch.
Taking over for starter Corey Kluber with one out in the seventh and the Tribe up, 2-0, Miller threw 61 percent sliders while facing six batters and retiring five -- all on strikeouts and all on sliders. His 1 2/3 scoreless innings bridged the gap between Kluber and closer Cody Allen in Cleveland's 2-0 victory.
Game 2 of the ALCS is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (on TBS, and Sportsnet and RDS in Canada).
Fortunately for Miller, he could pair a mid-90s fastball with a mid-80s slider that consistently cracked a spin rate of 2,700 rpm, compared with his season average of 2,591 rpm. While sliders with high spin rates don't necessarily translate to better results, there does seem to be a correlation.
In fact, against all Major League pitchers this season, opponents hit just .172 with a .291 slugging percentage on such pitches. With Miller on the mound, they hit .143 with a .247 slugging percentage and whiffed on half of their swings. On this night, each of the five sliders that Miller used to generate strikeouts had a spin rate of at least 2,722 rpm.
Asked after the game if he thought the pitch was more effective than usual in Game 1, Miller said he tries not to think in those terms.
"I think about execution," Miller said. "I think I got away with a couple that were over the plate, so maybe that explains it. Maybe they had an extra gear or something. Adrenaline can go a long way. I felt like I can execute better than I did today, but sometimes you feel things [but] the opposite is happening, in a sense.
"Maybe it was better today, and I was feeling different. It's a lot of fun with the adrenaline and the emotion. This game is a little different. Just trying to go out there and slow things down and make a pitch."
Here is a closer look at Miller's outing, at-bat by at-bat:
Seventh inning (one out)
• Barney is the first of six straight right-handed batters Miller faces, which isn't a problem for the southpaw, who held righties to a .474 OPS this season. He starts off Barney with three straight fastballs, getting ahead 1-2, before burying a slider in the dirt. Barney is unable to check his swing. Velocity: 84.9 mph, spin rate: 2,787 rpm
• Like Encarnacion and Bautista, Upton had done damage against Miller in the past, although some of that occurred several years ago, before Miller moved to the bullpen and became one of the game's most dominant relievers. Upton, however, had hit one of his three homers off Miller this season -- a walk-off shot on July 2 for the Padres against the Yankees. But this time, Miller caught Upton looking at a 2-2 slider near the bottom of the zone. Velocity: 85.1 mph, spin rate: 2,722 rpm
• Miller gets ahead of Donaldson, 0-2, but the reigning AL MVP Award winner lines a down-and-in slider to center for a single. Velocity: 84.7 mph, spin rate: 2,760 rpm
• Miller fights back from a 2-0 count on Encarnacion, whose three postseason homers give him 45 for the year. The lefty throws three straight sliders, and Encarnacion is rung up on the last of them. He's upset with the call, but the pitch appears to be clearly within the zone. Velocity: 85.5 mph, spin rate: 2,782 rpm
• Miller again falls behind, 3-1, on Bautista. He again throws three straight sliders over the plate, and Bautista swings through the final one for the out. Velocity: 86.3 mph, spin rate: 2,741 rpm
• Facing Martin, Miller goes to the slider five of six times. On a 2-2 count, he whips one at the lower inside corner, and Martin comes up empty on an off-balance hack that almost sends him down to one knee. Velocity: 83.9 mph, spin rate: 2,807 rpm
The performance gave Miller 14 consecutive scoreless innings to begin his postseason career, going back to 2014 with the Orioles. It also made him the fourth pitcher, and first since the Angels' Kelvim Escobar in the 2005 ALCS, to go at least 1 2/3 innings in a postseason outing while recording each out on a strikeout.
Much of that success can be traced to that electric slider.
"He's tough, man," Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. "When he throws that slider, especially when he's throwing 97 [mph with his fastball], it's tough. He's got a funky delivery, too, so it makes it tough on hitters."
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.