Notes: Foulke's decision affects Miller
Reliever gets a shot at bullpen spot after closer retires
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Matt Miller's 4-month-old son, Maddox, has adjusted well to his new digs in Florida."He's sleeping about nine or 10 hours a night," Miller happily reported. Miller can also sleep a little easier now. Keith Foulke's decision to retire directly benefits Miller, who, prior to the announcement, looked to be bound for Triple-A Buffalo to start the season. Now, Miller, Jason Davis and Fernando Cabrera are the three most experienced arms available for the last three spots in the Tribe's bullpen. Davis and Cabrera are out of Minor League options, so they had the edge on Miller when it was a race for two jobs. "This definitely helps out my situation," Miller said of Foulke's retirement. "But I still want to compete and prove I belong." The 35-year-old Miller has a lot to prove this year. Namely, he must show he can stay healthy -- something he hasn't done the past two seasons. Miller missed the second half of '05 with an elbow injury and virtually all of '06 with a similar injury that required April surgery. Through it all, the Indians have stuck with him as a middle-relief option. Because when he's been healthy, Miller has been effective. The sidearmer is 6-1 with a 2.77 ERA and two saves in 94 appearances with the Tribe over the last three seasons. "I know in my heart -- and I hope most of these guys know -- when I'm healthy, I can help this team out, and I would be beneficial to the big-league team," Miller said. "They've taken care of me the last few years, so I let them know if I have to start out in Buffalo, that's something I'm willing to do. But that doesn't mean I wasn't going to come in and try to win that spot." Miller made it back to the Indians in time to make eight appearances in September, going 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA. "It was a major advantage for me to be able to throw eight games," he said. "Actually doing well was another thing. That just helps my chances of staying in the big leagues. Luckily, the Indians have stuck behind me and helped me through this." The elbow, Miller said, is back to 100-percent health. But he acknowledges he said the same thing a year ago. "I know I said that last spring," he said. "But last spring it felt like it was getting better, then one day it wouldn't feel the same. I thought it would get gradually better and better, but, at a certain point, it started going the other way. This year, I've already thrown seven bullpens, and I'm able to let my pitches go. I didn't want to come in here worried about my elbow, and I'm not." He's the man: So much for the mystery. So much for the drama. The two-man race for the Indians' closer job was cut in half before camp even got underway. Joe Borowski is now the man tabbed to close out games for the Tribe this year. But that doesn't mean he was pumping his fist in excitement when news of Foulke's decision came down.
"It's unfortunate, because him being in the bullpen would have made our bullpen that much stronger," Borowski said. "I think [general manager Mark Shapiro] did enough this offseason where it's not like we're saying, 'Oh no, what do we do now?' But it definitely hurts to lose someone of that quality coming out of the bullpen." Having been through the grind of rehabbing and recovering from a major injury, Borowski understands where Foulke, who has endured nagging elbow, back and knee problems the past three years, was coming from. "You'd love to be able to play forever," Borowski said. "But it doesn't happen. I guess it just wasn't in his heart. He didn't want to carry on with it. It's understandable. When you're coming off an injury, it's a mental grind. It really takes a toll on you. He must have said, 'That's enough.'" Backing up Borowski: What happens if Borowski gets hurt? Or if he pitches three days in a row? Who would back him up? At this point, the Indians just don't know, exactly. "I just started thinking about it," manager Eric Wedge said. "I'm not ready to speak on that just yet. It is something we're definitely going to have to make a decision on, though." Veteran Roberto Hernandez, who owns 326 saves, is certainly one option, though the Indians didn't sign him with the intent of returning him to closer's duties. Davis and Cabrera have the raw velocity often associated with closers, though neither has displayed the consistent command necessary for the job. Rafael Betancourt had some closing success at the tail end of '06, saving three games. "In my mind, I've got some ideas [for the role]," said Shapiro, who preferred not to name names. "By the end of camp, we'll be able to clearly state that. We have some guys we think we can handle the ninth, but we'll wait and see." Tribe on the tube: Indians broadcasters Rick Manning, Matt Underwood and Brian Anderson will be reporting to camp soon to present "Spring Training Daily" on SportsTime Ohio. The program will run Monday through Friday for two weeks, beginning Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. ET and will cover practice, position battles and player and personnel interviews.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.