David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Andrew Miller showed up Thursday in the Yankees’ clubhouse wearing a black Velcro brace on his right wrist. After the 8-5 win over the Astros, Miller’s lower arm, from the elbow to the base of his fingers, was packed in dripping ice.
On the mound, however, Miller wore his glove but no brace. And if we didn’t know he was pitching with a broken pisiform bone in that right wrist, no one would have guessed it. Despite two singles, including a weak slapper off Chase Headley’s glove, Miller relied heavily on his big-bending slider to strike out the side in the ninth for his first save.
Later, he was more than happy to answer questions about the game. The whole fracture thing? Not quite as much. Miller being Miller, he was great on both topics. He just doesn’t want to make a huge deal about the wrist, but we can’t help ourselves.
“I was fine,” he said. “I know we have to talk about it, but I don’t think it matters. I think it sounds a lot worse than it is.”
Yeah, sure. Of course. Plenty of us can identify with breaking a bone somewhere in our body. It’s very painful, even if the biggest thing we had to worry about was brushing our teeth or hobbling down the stairs.
For Miller, the level of difficulty is a tad higher. Retiring major-leaguers, any of whom could decapitate him with a line drive, is a bigger problem. But he refuses to see it that way. Only eight days after he got drilled on that spot, we couldn’t get him to admit the wrist hurts.
“It doesn’t,” Miller said.
Not standing at his locker, packed in ice, no. But if he twists it in the wrong position, there definitely is discomfort. And he’s been instructed to wear the brace at all times away from the ballpark, which Miller says he does primarily to protect himself from his 2-year-old son, Max.
Apparently, facing Houston was not as scary. He considered wearing a lighter brace under his glove but figured it would be more of a distraction to him. He preferred tape, but MLB rules don’t allow it under any circumstances, because of the tacky advantage it might provide for a pitcher.
Other than those later hints, any difference in Miller was imperceptible from the moment the bullpen door opened. The Stadium speakers welcomed Miller with his usual Johnny Cash anthem, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” and the Yankees’ substitute closer — until Aroldis Chapman returns from a 30-game suspension — went to work carving up the Astros.
The only mistake, in Miller’s mind, was a 1-and-2 slider he left up to Tyler White, who punched a line-drive single to rightfield. And with one out, that twice brought the tying run to the plate. The previous hit was another two-strike slider that Carlos Gomez golfed toward Headley. Miller was fine with that location, as the best Gomez could do was pound the pitch into the dirt.
On this day, Miller said the game plan was to go heavily toward his trademark slider. Of his 23 pitches, he threw only six fastballs, figuring the Houston hitters would chase, which is exactly what they did. Last season, according to Fangraphs.com, Miller had a fairly balanced split, throwing 45.7 percent fastballs and 54.3 percent sliders.
Velocity-wise, Miller was about the same, sitting 94 mph with his fastball (he maxed at 98) and 83-84 with his slider. All three of his strikeouts were of the swinging variety, which seems right on pace for a guy whose 14.59 K/9 ratio was the best in the American League last season and second only to Chapman (15.74).
If Miller was bothered at all by the wrist, he did a flawless job of disguising it. “There was nothing that I can see,” Joe Girardi said. “I was really pleased with what I saw.”
Girardi had planned to pitch Miller regardless in the series finale because he had been in only one game — last Saturday’s exhibition in Miami — since the injury. Both were lucky it turned out to be in a save situation.
“Pretty courageous,” Alex Rod riguez said.
Maybe so, but to Miller, the save was business as usual. Which made it that much more impressive.