Miller remains focal point of Tribe's bullpen

Miller remains focal point of Tribe's bullpen

CLEVELAND -- The Indians changed the way people thought about pitching in the postseason a year ago. During Cleveland's run to the World Series, manager Terry Francona utilized Andrew Miller like an all-terrain vehicle. No matter the inning, score or situation, Francona leaned hard on Miller as a high-leverage stopper.

Miller plans to be ready for the same critical role this October.

Game Date Results Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 5 CLE 4, NYY 0 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 6 CLE 9, NYY 8 (13) Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 8 NYY 1, CLE 0 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 9 NYY 7, CLE 3 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 11 NYY 5, CLE 2 Watch

"Ideally, I'd like to be as available as possible," Miller said. "But I think we're a deeper team, and we have a healthier starting group that seems more ready for this."

That last point made by Miller is an important one, because it was Cleveland's injury-riddled rotation that necessitated pushing the lefty to the max last postseason. Francona looked like he was revolutionizing bullpen usage, but the manager was also running low on healthy arms. Even with a cast that is now free of casts, Miller will still be the X-factor for the Tribe's pitching staff in the team's upcoming World Series quest.

In August, Miller landed on the disabled list twice due to patellar tendinitis in his right knee. The wonky knee created a mechanical chain reaction that hindered the left-hander's ability to hit his typical fastball velocity or fire his slider with its usual bite. The second stint on the shelf lasted for three weeks, giving Miller the last two-plus weeks of the season to round into form in time for the October spotlight.

With each outing over the season's final month, Miller looked more and more like himself on the mound, which is to say that batters looked more and more helpless at the plate against the 6-foot-7 relief monster. That has been a welcomed sight for the American League Central-champion Indians, who are also hopeful that the down time in August can translate into a second wind for Miller in the playoffs.

"His arm feels great," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "He kept his arm in shape the whole time, except he didn't have the wear and tear of the extra 20-25 innings he would've gotten. So I think it's probably going to be easier to lean on him a little bit more. He's bouncing back from 25-pitch outings that he's had better than ever. He's in a good spot right now."

Last year, Miller established single-postseason relief records for innings (19 1/3), strikeouts (30) and multi-inning appearances (10). He logged 30-plus pitches in five outings and 40-plus pitches in three of his 10 playoff appearances. Miller was brilliant for his first eight games, striking out 27 against four walks across 15 shutout innings. He picked up the Most Valuable Player Award for the AL Championship Series in the process. It was not until Game 4 and Game 7 of the World Series that he flinched, allowing three runs in 4 1/3 innings combined.

With a healthy rotation this season, there is a greater potential for longer starts and less of a burden placed on the bullpen. Cleveland's decision-makers also opted to move starter Mike Clevinger to the 'pen, giving Francona yet another multi-inning option to leverage and bridge the gap to the late-inning arms.

Even with the deeper roster, expect Miller to remain the focal point of the bullpen.

"There's a lot going on that we didn't have last year," Miller said. "So, ideally, yeah, the starters pitch seven, eight, nine innings and we all get to put our feet up out there. But I'm doing everything I can do be as available as possible."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.