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Bob Ryan

It's another right turn by Miller

With 6 1/3 shutout innings last night, Andrew Miller has given up just one run over his last two starts for the Red Sox. With 6 1/3 shutout innings last night, Andrew Miller has given up just one run over his last two starts for the Red Sox. (Mike Stone/Reuters)
By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / August 26, 2011

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ARLINGTON, Texas - Who wouldn’t want to pitch for a team that gives its starter a 6-0 lead to work with every night?

Tuesday night, the beneficiary was John Lackey. Wednesday night, it was Josh Beckett. Last night, it was Andrew Miller, and the way he pitched, you’d have to say he was the most deserving of the three.

I mean, c’mon: 6 1/3 innings, three hits (all singles, one an infield dribbler), two walks, six strikeouts, and, of course, zero runs. He never came close to cracking, and the only reason he came out was a pitch-limit thing. The final score was indeed 6-0. Andrew Miller is 6-1 in his 10 starts. How about that?

The skipper looked quite prescient, deciding after he got here that it might be a better idea to throw Miller in the wrap-up game of this series, thus giving his other starters an extra day of rest and getting Tim Wakefield away from the Rangers, a team he does not exactly own. The 6-foot-7-inch lefthander rewarded Francona with his most impressive outing yet.

“He was fun to watch,’’ saluted Francona. “The biggest thing was he repeated his pitches. He just kept going out there and repeated his fastball, repeated his curve, and repeated his changeup. Again, that’s against a lineup that’s really dangerous.’’

Miller pretty much downplayed his accomplishment. Listening to him, you might have thought he had just pitched a scoreless inning in some mop-up garbage time. “It was nice,’’ he acknowledged, “but the big thing is we won. That’s the goal every time.’’

Without going overboard, it’s safe to say that Miller is giving the team exactly what it hoped for when it picked him up in the offseason. Common sense tells you that someone is going down during the course of the long season, and, sure enough, Daisuke Matsuzaka is gone and Clay Buchholz hasn’t pitched since June 16, when he went five innings to become the pitcher of record in a 4-2 victory over Tampa Bay. Miller was summoned from Pawtucket, and he has become a nice addition to the mix.

It hasn’t been a complete upward slope on the graph. In successive starts against Kansas City and Chicago he gave up 19 hits and 10 runs in 9 1/3 innings. As a result, he didn’t start for 20 days (there were two appearances out of the bullpen), until Francona gave him a start Aug. 19 against the Royals. He went 5 1/3 innings to get the win, giving up just three hits and one earned run.

“To me, the big thing was getting back out there against Kansas City after the layoff,’’ he said. “That’s when I started to feel more comfortable.’’

He was sharp from the outset last night, retiring seven of the first nine batters, getting out of the third on a crisp 5-4-3 double play, and then breezing through the fourth (10 pitches) and fifth (a Maddux-ian seven pitches).

When a Marco Scutaro throwing error and a walk to Ian Kinsler put men on first and second to open the sixth, Miller was confronted with a mini-crisis. But he got Elvis Andrus on a force play and then received some help from batterymate Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who threw out Andrus to complete a strike-’em-out-throw-’em-out double play as the ever-dangerous Josh Hamilton was whiffing for the third time.

He retired Michael Young on a liner to center to start the seventh, but when Nelson Cruz singled to left, Francona made the big trip to the mound, signifying that Miller’s evening was over after throwing a quite economical 83 pitches.

“I just thought that was enough,’’ said Francona, who, as always, had his eye on the Big Picture. “We were thinking 80-85 or so, and with all those righthanders coming up, we decided that was enough.’’

There wasn’t much doubt it had been the southpaw’s best performance of his young Red Sox career. He did acknowledge that he had clear command of all his pitches.

“I was able to get outs with my changeup, I was able to get outs with my curveball, and when I needed it I was able to get outs with my fastball,’’ he said. “It wasn’t just one pitch working.’’

On the subject of working with a nice lead, well, what would you expect anyone to say?

“Of course, it’s huge when guys score runs like that,’’ he said. “You don’t have to worry about protecting that one run. You can attack. You can be aggressive.’’

The major difference between this game and the previous one was in the use of his changeup. “I used it earlier tonight,’’ he noted. Ask Hamilton, who was off-balance during all three at-bats, but never more so than during his second at-bat, when he flailed at a first-pitch change.

Andrew Miller shies away from any talk about becoming a permanent part of the rotation. Nope, it’s strictly party line, I-just-want-to-help-out-wherever-I-can stuff, and that’s fine. “We’ve got some pretty good starters on this team,’’ he pointed out.

Any one of them would have been happy to claim the game he threw last night.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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