Dodgers' Miller making heads turn
Lefty has missed two of past three seasons with surgeries
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- No matter what Hong-Chih Kuo does on the mound, Dodgers management is understandably leery about his health, the psychological aftermath of two Tommy John elbow reconstructions.
Fellow left-hander Greg Miller has his share of doubters, too. He spent the past three years working his way back from two shoulder operations, so he can relate to Kuo. Miller not only must rebound from the physical effects of injury, but change the skeptical perception of baseball evaluators who are quick to label players when injuries linger.
"I know I'm healthy, but I also know they're concerned because of my history," Miller said of management. "I want to come in and completely erase any memory of what I went through. I don't want to be known as a guy who was hurt for three years. I totally understand what [Kuo] has gone through."
Like Kuo, Miller is back on the Dodgers' radar this year, with an outside chance to make the club as a left-handed reliever. And it's about time, considering the $1.2 million bonus the Dodgers gave him out of Esperanza High School in Anaheim after drafting him with a compensation pick for losing free agent Chan-Ho Park.
Talk about on the fast track, Miller was still 18 in 2003, one year out of high school, when he went 11-4 with a 2.49 ERA at Class A Vero Beach, then was 1-1 with a 1.01 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings at Double-A Jacksonville. But he was shut down at the end of the 2003 season with shoulder discomfort that had not cleared up by the next spring.
The next Spring Training he underwent surgery to remove a bursa and scar tissue from the acromio-clavicular joint at the top of his left shoulder, but he continued to experience discomfort and never pitched in a game that season.
Problems continued in 2005, and he had a second procedure to shave the tip of the clavicle to resolve an impingement that sidelined him until midseason.
He returned and pitched effectively at three levels. Promoted to Double-A to start the 2006 season, he dominated with a 0.79 ERA in 11 appearances and was promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he struggled with his control, walking 33 in 37 innings. His 4.38 was the highest of his career.
Miller spent the winter conditioning in Arizona at Physiotherapy Associates with private trainer Keith Kocher, who works with a number of Major Leaguers, including Dodgers pitcher Jason Schmidt.
"I wanted to spend one more offseason to get my arm as strong as I could, especially if there was a chance to start again," he said.
"I never thought I was done. I'm only 22 now," said Miller. "There were times when I wondered if I would ever be able to pitch as a starter, because I was only able to go one or two innings at a time. But all of that is not even in the back of my mind anymore. Coming into Spring Training last year I was pretty healthy, but nobody was talking about moving me back to a starter."
Miller played basketball until he was 12 and played soccer for two seasons in high school. But by his junior year of high school, he realized which sport best provided him a future.
Miller once was one of the Dodgers' dual pitching phenoms. The other was Edwin Jackson, currently fighting for the fifth-starter job in Tampa Bay. In 2004, they were ranked 1-2 by Baseball America among Dodgers prospects.
Of the organization's Top 10 that year, six (Jackson, Franklin Gutierrez, James Loney, Chad Billingsley, Koyie Hill and Reggie Abercrombie) at least have played in the Major Leagues. But not Miller.
At least, not yet. Miller said he's now healthy and ready to take the next step.
"I've been rehabilitating since '04, and after three years of shoulder problems, I'm finally where I want to be," he said. "Everybody I talk to says my arm action is finally back to where it was before all that. Even last year, I felt right, but they say I wasn't throwing the same as I am now. The other day I looked at a video of myself throwing batting practice last week, and I compared it to other videos and, it's true, my arm slot was completely different last year than it is now. I feel I can consistently throw strikes. Before, I couldn't say that, not even late last year. My winter workouts have really made a difference."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.