PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- One more start.
That's the message Wade Miller said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and pitching coach Dave Wallace delivered to him following his five shutout innings last night with Triple A Pawtucket. One final rehab start, which will be his fourth, and Miller can begin preparing for his Red Sox debut, which is setting up to be May 8 at Fenway Park against Seattle.
"I'm going to try to plead my case this week to try and start in Detroit [Tuesday], but I don't think that's quite going to work," said Miller, who allowed five hits in five innings, striking out three and walking two in the PawSox' 1-0 win over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Philadelphia's top affiliate. "I feel I can get people out right now. That's the main thing. I feel I have good stuff right now.
"They feel I need one more," added Miller, who pitched before a McCoy Stadium gathering of 2,904, plus Epstein, Wallace, and other Sox executives seated behind home plate. "That's their call. I'm going to have to deal with it."
However, Epstein, in an e-mail late last night, said Miller will pitch again Tuesday for Pawtucket, and "nothing has been determined beyond that."
"Wade took another step forward in his rehab tonight," Epstein said. "He's building arm strength while gaining comfort with some mechanical adjustments that he's made. He's throwing all his pitches and commanding them, for the most part. He's working hard and making progress, but he's not quite all the way back yet."
The fact that Miller is even in position to be pleading for a big-league start is welcome news, given that the Sox will go into the weekend with Curt Schilling (ankle) and David Wells (foot) on the disabled list, and given the general uncertainty that has surrounded Miller since he signed with the club this offseason.
Miller is 58-39 with a 3.87 ERA in his career, and his price tag alone ($1.5 million guaranteed) leaves some questions about his rotator cuff in the minds of anyone in touch with the market for starting pitching.
But Miller has now started three minor league games and given up only three runs in 14 2/3 innings, while approaching his normal velocity. Miller worked his two previous rehab starts at Single A, with Sox affiliates in Greenville, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C., and gave up three runs in those starts, including a solo homer in each game.
The 28-year-old was on a 75-pitch count in both Single A appearances, then 90 last night. Still, his pitch count has been somewhat static. He went 73 pitches in his rehab debut with Greenville, 67 with Wilmington a week ago Monday, then 79 (53 strikes) last night.
Rain fell during his final inning last night, the fifth, and the Sox opted to get him those last 11 pitches, to reach 90, in a bullpen session rather than on the field.
"They didn't want me going out there in the wet," Miller said. "So I went in the bullpen where it was wet."
The Sox still want to safeguard Miller where they can, and they did that in his two previous outings, keeping him in warm weather in the Carolinas. Last night was a raw 51 degrees, but Miller said, "I didn't have trouble getting loose."
He peaked at 91 miles per hour four times last night on the stadium scoreboard after touching 93 with Wilmington. His fastball regularly ranged between 87 and 89. However, the scoreboard velocity readings here, according to Pawtucket pitching coach Mike Griffin, are often off by 2 to 3 miles per hour.
Epstein said all guns in Pawtucket are erratic because of the angle of the scout seats. Epstein's best estimate: Millar was throwing 87-92, and regularly at 89 with his fastball.
"That's fine," Miller said. "I'm just trying to get outs now. I'm not trying to throw 100 miles per hour. Velocity will come. I'm not where I will be, but as long as I'm getting people out, that's all that matters."
Given Schilling hurt his ankle Saturday when attempting to throw harder than he had all season, it's natural to wonder when, and if, Miller will reach back for his best stuff and what will happen when he does.
"I reach back," he said. "A couple pitches here and there I reach back and find a little extra. It's not something I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about throwing quality pitches right now."
When will he reach maximum velocity?
"My arm will let me know," he said.
"I can't put a timetable."
Generally, when healthy, Miller can work at 94 to 95 m.p.h., which makes his other stuff -- a devastating curveball plus a slider and changeup -- that much more effective.
Miller, a strikeout pitcher (7.72 K's per nine innings for his career), whiffed three Red Barons last night. The game's leadoff batter, Mark Budzinski, went down swinging at a 90-m.p.h. fastball, then looked at a sharp 12-to-6 curveball in the fifth that dropped over the plate at 73 m.p.h. Ryan Howard, the 2004 Eastern League most valuable player, looked at a curveball for a strikeout in the second inning.
The only pitch that wasn't sharp was his changeup, which he doesn't use excessively.
"I was trying to throw a lot of fastballs," he said. "If I can spot the fastball, I can spot breaking pitches a little easier."
Miller spotted his fastball well early, throwing 22 of his first 27 pitches for strikes, remarkable given that he hadn't pitched in a game in 10 days.
"All my pitches right now are pretty decent," he said. "My slider has been my pretty good pitch my last couple outings. Probably the best slider I've had in a year or so. I felt my control was getting better from last time. I felt more comfortable. My windup was where I needed it to be. I sometimes throw a little too fast, too much adrenaline, and my arm is not in the right spot all the time. I slowed it down a little bit.
"We're finally getting around to pitching and getting back to where I need to be. It's been a while."