Miller tosses scoreless frame in spring debut

Left-hander is set to leave camp soon for World Baseball Classic

Miller tosses scoreless frame in spring debut

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona threw convention out the window in his handling of relief ace Andrew Miller in the postseason last year. If it made the most sense to hand the ball to Miller as early as the fifth inning, Francona did not hesitate to summon him.

During Saturday's 8-2 victory over the Reds, Miller took the mound at Goodyear Ballpark in the fourth inning for his Cactus League debut. No, this was not another example of Francona pushing the boundaries of bullpen usage. That just happened to be the left-hander's scheduled inning after a pair of starters got their work in during the first three frames.

Asked about calling Miller to the hill in the fourth, Francona let out a laugh.

"Yeah, but he's exiting in the fifth," Francona said.

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During his spring debut, Miller ended with one strikeout and no runs allowed, but not without some traffic on the basepaths. After registering two quick outs -- a strikeout of Cincinnati's Jesse Winker and a flyout of Dilson Herrera -- Miller allowed three straight singles, two of which didn't leave the infield, to load the bases. The lefty escaped the jam by inducing a flyout from Billy Hamilton.

Miller, who is prepping for a stint with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, was pleased with the outing. More than anything, he was happy to consistently find the strike zone and see reactions from hitters in a game setting for the first time this spring.

"I felt like I was throwing strikes. That's more than you can hope for at this point," Miller said. "We just want to see how our stuff plays against live batters. We know they're behind. They haven't seen live pitching. It's a process for everybody. The biggest thing for me is to go out there, make adjustments and get the ball over the plate the majority of the time."

Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway noted that Miller is scheduled to appear in four Cactus League games before departing for the Classic.

Outlook: Miller, RP, CLE

Both Callaway and Francona said the focus for the early games for Miller will be establishing his fastball. In past springs, Miller has primarily worked on his fastball early in camp before building up to his regular-season approach, which has included a higher percentage of sliders than heaters over the past two years. Against the Reds, Miller said he worked in some breaking balls, too.

"I threw quite a few breaking balls, maybe more than I do in some early outings in Spring Training," Miller said. "I just think that's the way my career has gone. I've thrown more and more breaking balls. It's a pitch I can count on. I need that one there, too."

The fact that Miller allowed a few hits -- appearing more human than he did in the postseason -- was normal for this time of the year.

"There's a little bit of rust, no matter how prepared you are," Francona said. " It's the same thing with a game. We just want to get them all in there and shake whatever rust there is."

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.