Saturday, May 19, 2007

Andew Miller Makes Successful Major League Debut

There is something about being at the first career start of a pitcher you just know is going to be a star. The ability to look back and say "I was there." I can say that about Jeremy Bonderman. The Detroit Tigers were not supposed to be very good in 2003, but this new 20-something-year-old pitcher the Tigers got in a trade for Jeff Weaver was supposed to be the real deal. So me and my buddies Ethan and Jared, fellow Tigers fans, drove down to Comerica Park from Ann Arbor, bought two tickets (in the days you could buy tickets the night of a game, which is much harder to do now that the Tigers win close to 100 games a year instead of lose 100 games a year) and watched Bonderman's big league debut against Minnesota. It wasn't a great outing (4 innings, 9 hits, 6 earned runs) and Bonderman didn't have a great rookie season (6-19, 5.56 ERA) but what he learned from that season helped shape him as a pitcher, and four years later, he's the ace of the Tigers pitching staff.

Except on Friday night, Bonderman was unable to make his scheduled start due to a blister problem, and he was placed on the disabled list. Which allowed me to watch, in person, the major league starting debut of phenom Andrew Miller. Miller, still a few days shy of his 22nd birthday, should have been nervous. He was making his first start as a big league pitcher, he was facing the defending World Series champions, and he had Albert Pujols looking down on him (or, more accurately phased, Miller, at 6'6" was looking down on Pujols). Nobody would have been surprised had Miller struggled. Bonderman did in his debut. Justin Verlander, in his first start in 2005 (giving up 4 runs in 5 and 1/3 innings at Cleveland) wasn't sharp either. It's part of the maturation process. It's why no Detroit Tigers pitcher had won their first start of their career since Andy Van Hekken in 2002.

AP Photo

Well, nobody told Andrew Miller, because all he did, in his first ever big league start, was shutout the Cardinals for 6 innings, allowing only four hits while striking out two. It was an incredible debut from an incredible talent, and likely a sign of things to come from the lanky lefthander. Being at the game live, I wasn't able to pay close attention to how Miller was mixing his pitches, but what I was able to see was Miller's mental makeup. After getting the first two Cardinals batters out (on a popup and a strikeout) in the first inning, he loaded the bases. Could have been a sign of a long night (or, well, short night) to come for Miller. But he calmly got out of the jam, and only allowed two more hits the rest of his night. Not too bad for a kid making his first career start in the major leagues.

Miller likely won't be staying in Detroit long (if, as expected, Jeremy Bonderman comes off the disabled list next week, blister healed, Miller will return to AA Erie) but he certainly has given the Tigers and their fans something to think about. Both in terms of replacing Chad Durbin in the rotation if Durbin struggles, or just about how good the Tigers future is when you consider how young Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, and Andrew Miller are. Miller was all that was advertised and more, and hopefully, just as I say with Jeremy Bonderman, I can brag one day about being at Andrew Miller's first career start.

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