GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians reliever Andrew Miller fired throw after throw, his catch partner positioned in a crouch, as a light rain fell on the practice diamond Monday morning at the club's spring complex. The lefty ace got his work in early on the eve of the first official workout for pitchers and catchers.
Compared to his fellow late-inning relievers, Miller is slightly ahead in terms of his throwing, and that is due to the fact that he plans on pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic later this spring. Even after last year's heavy workload and taxing postseason, Miller feels strong and fully-equipped to balance the Classic's competitive environment with preparing for the regular season.
"The most important thing is the Cleveland Indians' season," Miller said after his early-morning throwing session. "That's what I'm here for. That's what they're focused on and we have to understand that. But, I think it's a good opportunity. If I take advantage of things like our training staff and what we have in place to help us get strong and stay that way, then I think it'll be a good thing for me."
One of the main reasons for Miller accepting a role on Team USA was the fact that Jim Leyland will be serving as the manager. Leyland was Miller's skipper back in 2006-07, when the pitcher was just breaking into the big leagues with the Tigers. A decade later, Miller has established himself as one of the game's elite relievers, and one who nearly helped the Indians win the World Series in 2016.
Miller was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series, in which his relief prowess helped overcome the club's rotation issues, and he punched the Indians' ticket to the Fall Classic against the Cubs. Over the entirety of the postseason, Miller turned in one of the greatest playoff performances for a reliever, but he also racked up 19 1/3 innings (a Major League record for a reliever in a single postseason).
Overall, Miller logged 93 2/3 innings last year between the regular season and playoffs. Due to the World Baseball Classic, though, Miller was unable to rest as much as fellow Indians relievers Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw.
"Because of the WBC, I might be a few days ahead of them," Miller said. "I didn't get a chance to maybe lay off the gas a little bit."
That aspect of Miller's offseason regimen is not the biggest concern, according to pitching coach Mickey Callaway. When it comes to the Classic, the more important element for Miller and the club to monitor will be his pitch usage.
Callaway noted that Miller has typically thrown a high volume of fastballs in the early stages of Spring Training, whereas Miller's slider is his dominant pitch in the regular season. In 2016, for example, Miller threw 60.8 percent sliders, compared to 39.2 percent fastballs. he has not thrown a higher percentage of fastballs than sliders since '14. Miller's spring approach, however, has not always reflected those in-season rates.
"Usually, at that time of year, he's probably 70-percent fastballs in Spring Training," Callaway explained. "So, there's a balance there that he's going to have to just know, going in, 'I'm not going to throw that slider with a man on second that I normally throw as often.' We talked to him about it. He realizes that. It's, 'What are you ready for?' The goal is still to get ready for the season.
"If you don't have your fastball, you throw a little more fastballs to get it ready. So, obviously, it's competing, getting ready for the season and then making sure that you stay healthy. Those are the things he's going to be monitoring."
Callaway said he will keep in contact with Team USA pitching coach Jeff Jones during the World Baseball Classic to keep tabs on Miller's pitch usage.
Helping the Indians is the fact that Miller will be in camp until March 6, giving Callaway and his staff time to work through a pitching program and plan. As of Monday, Miller said he had already completed around a half-dozen bullpen sessions and looked forward to getting into a handful of Cactus League games before departing for the Classic. Callaway noted that Miller will likely pitch in the Tribe's spring opener on Feb. 25 against the Reds.
Once Miller leaves for the Classic, Callaway said: "He'll kind of be on his own for that, but he's an experienced guy."
The Indians trust that Miller will be smart about his experience, which the lefty believes will have its benefits.
"I'm really excited. Personally, it's a chance to put your country on your jersey," Miller said. "And I get a chance to go back and pitch for Jim Leyland again, which was a treat that I had at the beginning of my career. It's a special experience that, hopefully, is a lot of fun and we win some games. I think it's a chance for me to get better and pitch in big games and do that kind of thing, which as a player, is what we all dream about."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.