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Cardinals bullpen: Is it Miller time?

The St. Louis Cardinals hope a healthy Andrew Miller can help reverse their recent luck with new relievers. Coming off a series of injuries, Miller ended 2018 by signing a two-year deal with the Cardinals. Recent relief signings haven’t worked out too well for St. Louis. Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson and Greg Holland weren’t able to replicate their past success.

Andrew Miller [Newscom/Kim Klement photo]

John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, said he knew Miller would be a big key to making the bullpen better in 2019. “He wants the ball,” Mozeliak said. “One of our stated goals this offseason was to improve our bullpen, Mozeliak added. “Andrew Miller is one of the premier relievers in the major leagues, and his addition certainly strengthens our bullpen. “He has pitched on the biggest stages in the world. He has pitched at an elite level. His character, his competitiveness and his leadership. All of this has led us to pursuing him this offseason.” St. Louis signed the free-agent Miller on a two-year 2019-2020 deal with a vesting option for 2021. Miller, a veteran of 13 seasons in the majors, has been one of baseball’s best left-handed relievers since converting to the role with Boston in 2012. He twice finished among the top 10 in American League Cy Young balloting while with the Yankees and the Indians. Being the closer is not something Miller is expecting or seeking this season. He said he can pitch anywhere and doesn’t mind that role. “One thing that makes him unique from most relievers is that he doesn’t care where he pitches,” Mozeliak said. “He wants high leverage when it matters the most, whether it’s in the fourth inning, the seventh inning or the ninth. That’s a nice Swiss Army knife for the manager.” Miller agreed. He believes the whole bullpen should be that way. “Hopefully as a group, that’s what we can kind of bring to the table. We can be flexible as a group and do whatever it takes to win,” Miller said. “That’s the mentality we have.” The Cardinals don’t have a clear closer at this point. Hard-throwing right-hander Jordan Hicks, who frequently tops 100 mph with his fastball, looms large as an option. Miller can do the job as well. Miller pointed out there’s no designated setup man or closer in the minor leagues. Relievers learned that coming up, he said, and should bring that mindset to the big leagues. “There’s value in knowing what inning you pitch, but I don’t think you need rigid structure roles,” Miller said. “Hopefully, we give him [manager Mike Shildt] a ton of flexibility. In an ideal world, there’s seven guys out there than can pitch to lefties or righties and can pitch early in the game or late in the game. Ideally, that’s what we give him.” Miller was a key member of the Cleveland bullpen in 2016 when it advanced to the World Series. He was voted the MVP of the AL Championship Series that year, striking out 14 in 7 2-3 innings. He was an All-Star in 2017. But he saw his ERA climb to 4.24 in 2018 with the Indians while battling hamstring, knee and shoulder issues that required three stints on the disabled list. At 33, he’s coming off a season in which he was limited to 34 innings in 37 appearances because of those injuries. The Cardinals, however, are confident those health issues are resolved and that Miller is the player of two years ago and not the Andrew Miller of last year. Miller, too, said he is good to go. “I feel great,” Miller said. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work. It was frustrating there for a while finding a plan but I feel great. I’m ready to go.” The Cardinals went 88-74 last year and missed the playoffs for the third straight season. Miller, who pitched for the Marlins in 2008-10, said coming back to the National League won’t be a big deal. “Honestly, the two leagues are probably more similar now than they’ve ever been,” Miller said. “For me as a reliever, it’s just about getting a guy out. It’s a lot of new faces and that’s always a challenge. “As I’ve gotten older and have more experience, that works in my favor. I’m looking forward to it. Certainly, this division, on paper, is pretty darn good.” Hitting is not something Miller expects to do in the National League. “I’ve got to bat, we’ve got big problems,” Miller laughed. “I’m not much of a hitter. I don’t expect that to be any positive contribution to the team.”
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