FORT MYERS, Fla. -- They stood side by side yesterday morning, the past and present juxtaposed in shallow left field at City of Palms Park. Derek Lowe and Wade Miller. The former No. 3 starter on the Red Sox and the hopeful No. 3.
Pitchers and catchers don't report for spring training until Feb. 17, yet Lowe and Miller, as well as Trot Nixon, Matt Mantei, and Kelly Shoppach, played long toss. Lowe, who calls Fort Myers home, was there to work with his offseason trainer, the Red Sox' Chris Correnti. As was Miller.
As they threw -- Lowe from 90 feet, then 120 -- it became obvious that Lowe has something, other than a World Series title, that Miller longs for. His health.
Miller threw from 90 feet but no longer. He must work his way up to 180, building arm strength in the process, before he steps onto a mound and really reaches back.
That day, probably about two weeks from now, will give Miller an indication of whether his frayed rotator cuff has healed sufficiently. That day, and what follows, will determine whether Miller can pitch in 2005.
"I have my doubts," Miller said. "I'm feeling better now. It's just a mind factor right now of letting the ball go. It's in my head that I can't do it because I couldn't do it last year for so long. It's going to be something when I go out there and try to let it go."
Miller hasn't "let one go" in a game since last June 25, at Texas, when he let 117 go, probably unwisely. Pitching for Houston, he went 5 1/3 innings, walking five among the 11 baserunners he allowed. Somehow, he gave up only one earned run. In fact, Miller allowed only two earned runs over 18 2/3 innings in that start and his previous two.
A hidebound individual, he allowed pain to masquerade as determination, probably to his own detriment, through three games.
"I wasn't quite sure what was wrong with it," he said. "I tried to pitch through it, hoping it would go away. But it was time for me to shut it down."
Initially, the Astros hoped Miller (7-7 with a 3.35 ERA), might return in a month or so. He attempted throwing on a mound on consecutive days in late August or early September, he said.
"[That] really did me in," he said. "It didn't help me at all."
Asked about surgery, Miller said, "It wasn't an option. You have to try and rehab it before you get cut open."
That wasn't good enough for the Astros, who feared Miller, 28, would cash in at arbitration but be physically unable to deliver in 2005.
"They didn't want to take a chance with it," said Miller, who made $3.4 million last year. "They made their decision so I had to make my decision. [The Red Sox] were the ones that were aggressive. They wanted me. I wanted to be with a team that wants me. They were the first team to call."
Miller's contract protects both the player and team. He's guaranteed just $1.5 million, though he can earn up to $3 million more in bonuses if healthy.
"It's too early to tell," said Correnti, who began working with Miller Feb. 2. "We'll see how the next two weeks go. Right now everything is going great.
"The whole key is to get his arm strength up before he gets on the mound. We don't have a timetable yet. If he's on the mound too early, he will never gain optimal arm strength."
Miller threw briefly to a catcher yesterday. He threw fastballs and curves at a fraction of his top velocity.
"I've thrown every pitch light," said Miller, who is 58-39, 3.87, for his career. "I haven't really cranked it up yet. I think that's going to be the deciding factor. When I crank it up and get on the mound, that's maybe the deciding factor whether I can pitch.
"I don't have the pain I did before. But once in a while it gets sore. The pain I have now is not in the same exact spot I had the injury. It's somewhere else. It's inflamed a bit. It's a work in progress."
Asked when that work will be completed, Miller said, "I don't think the work will ever be done. I'm going to be doing a lot of exercises during the season. And then once the offseason starts I have to start working on the shoulder again. It's something I can't let go, or it's going to be a problem.
"I'm not looking to start the season on the DL. I want to start the season ready to go. That's my whole goal right now. I haven't had any setbacks." . . .
The Sox might have found the lefthanded-hitting first baseman they've been searching for to back up Kevin Millar. No, not John Olerud. With Olerud the only lefthanded-hitting first baseman available who actually played in the majors last season, the Sox went outside the States, signing 33-year-old Roberto Petagine to a minor league contract.
Petagine, who is Venezuelan, played in Japan the last six years, winning three Gold Gloves, two home run titles, and an MVP award. He hit .317 with a .446 on-base percentage in six seasons, averaging 37 HRs and 99 RBIs.
Prior to that, he played portions of five seasons in the majors, hitting .225 with 10 HRs and 43 RBIs in 193 games with Houston (1994), San Diego (1995), the Mets (1996, '97), and Cincinnati (1998).
Petagine would earn $750,000 if he makes the Sox, plus bonuses for reaching 250 plate appearances. . . .
Red Sox fans can start registering today through noon Monday to have a chance to purchase tickets for Green Monster seats ($25-$120) and the right-field roof deck ($25-$110) for all games, as well as seats at all levels for Patriots Day (vs. Toronto) and all Yankee visits. Those who register online at www.redsox.com will be notified when to purchase tickets if their names are selected in the random drawing. There is also a phone option (877-REDSOX9) for those without Internet access, beginning at 3 p.m. Feb. 19 for Yankees/Patriots Day; 3 p.m. Feb. 26 for Green Monster seats; and 3 p.m. March 12 for right-field roof deck seats.