Rock Cats' Miller has new outlook

Rock Cats' Miller has new outlook

TRENTON, N.J. -- The proper perspective can be a useful tool for a pitcher in more ways than one.

Take Colby Miller for example. There was a time when the New Britain right-hander might have given an umpire a look or even exchanged some words if he thought a call didn't go his way. But Miller, Minnesota's third-round pick in the 2001 draft, views such indiscretions a bit differently.

You see, Miller, 23, has spent the last few winters officiating high school basketball games in his native Oklahoma. He hears the catcalls from fans and gets the grief from coaches and players alike -- the same as any umpire does in baseball. So, instead of griping, he admits that he's more understanding.

"I get yelled at a lot. Right from the minute you walk in the gym," Miller laughed. "It's one of the toughest sports to call because the fans are right on you. And you know you're never right and the fans get pretty riled up.

"I've talked to some of the umpires about it. As an official, you're never trying to make a bad call. So now it's just one of those deals where you don't try and show them up."

As Miller learned to keep his approach to dealing with umpires in perspective, he's also learned to apply the same thinking toward his career. Prior to last season, the former Oklahoma High School Baseball Player of the Year appeared to be on a fast track to Minnesota. The Twins had him on their 40-man roster and he had racked up 27 wins in 84 games, earning an invitation to Major League Spring Training in 2004.

But as camp drew to a close last season, Miller strained the flexor muscle in his right arm. Surgery wasn't required, but he did go on the disabled list and was limited to 14 starts after returning. His 3-7 record was the worst of his career, as was his 5.83 ERA. Minnesota, in turn, removed him from the 40-man roster.

"I kind of expected it," Miller said. "When you're on the 40-man, you have to stay healthy and produce. After big-league camp, I was throwing well and then I got hurt. Coming back was slow. I understand it's a business. But sure, it was a disappointment.

"Last year I would have liked to have had a great year and be a September call-up. But if I go out and pitch the way I know I can, I'll force them to make a decision."

Miller shook off the disappointment and is once again on the road to the Metrodome, even if he currently is on the outside looking in at the folks on the 40-man. He is 1-0 with an Eastern League-best 0.00 ERA through four games (three starts) heading into Monday's outing at Reading.

Miller hasn't allowed a run in 21 innings, dating back to his final start last year, and could match Willie Eyre's club mark (29 innings in June 2003) with a strong outing against the Phillies.

While Miller admits the Rock Cats' defense has been of immeasurable help during his hot start, he won't discount the fact that much of it has to do with him.

"This year I'm able to throw all four pitches for strikes and be effective," he said. "Last year I was getting one or two pitches over, and this year it's four. When I got hurt and I came back, I didn't have my curveball and that was always my go-to pitch. But now I'm healthy and I have a lot of confidence and have been able to throw the fastball, curveball, changeup and slider for strikes.

"It took a lot longer for me to recover last year than I expected. When I finally got back, the hitters were in mid-season form. By August, I had a better feel. You know, it was my first time coming back from an injury and I didn't know what it was like to come back."

New Britain manager Stan Cliburn saw Miller pitch before his injury, saw him immediately upon his return and has watched him closely this season. What he's seeing so far brings him back to the first time he saw the six-foot, 200-pounder.

"The first time I saw this young man was in 2000 and everything he threw was down in the zone," Cliburn said. "His delivery was fluid. When he got hurt and was leading up to that, his delivery had gotten herky-jerky. Maybe that led to being hurt. Now he's throwing strikes down in the zone.

"And he's confident. You can see it. You saw it in Spring Training. He did some live radio shows for us and there was an air of confidence in his voice. He was determined and his expectations were high. He was out to prove some things. The injury really frustrated him."

That frustration has given way to confidence and enjoyment. Miller is having fun, and it shows. He's also gotten good at keeping things in perspective.

"This has been a blast," he said. "When you first sign out of high school, your perspective is a lot different than it is now. It's just baseball and you go out and play. But each year you move up and you get better. The fields are nicer, the fans are more supportive and you get a real sense of what the big leagues are like."

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.