How Andrew Miller is shutting down the Blue Jays’ offence

Andrew Miller continued to dominate the batters of the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians took a 2-0 series lead in their American League Championship Series.

CLEVELAND — Ask around the Blue Jays clubhouse about what makes Andrew Miller so tough to hit and you get a wide variety of answers.

It’s his slider, most point out — that big, sweeping weapon that looks like its sitting right there for you before it tails down and away from the barrel of your bat.

It’s his arm angle, others say. He comes at you from an odd slant with his hand particularly far away from his body, which makes him difficult to time.

It’s also his location. The tall Cleveland Indians left-hander’s ability to throw his fastball on the black and his slider both in and out of the zone. He can backdoor that slider for a strike looking or back-foot it for an awkward swing-and-miss.

Then there’s his sequencing, and his deception. He mixes speeds and locations well, making it next to impossible to determine what’s coming. And he cleverly disguises his pitches, making them both look the same out of his hand.

And it’s his velocity, too. The fact you have to guard against that 84-mph slider and also an explosive fastball that touches 98.

“It’s really a combination of things,” confirms Blue Jays second baseman Darwin Barney. “Angle, height, length. The fastball plays up a little bit. The strike slider starts out of the zone. There’s a lot going on.”

So, there are your reasons why Miller has looked practically unhittable in this series. He’s faced 12 Blue Jays batters over two games, striking out 10 of them. He’s thrown 55 pitches, 39 of them for strikes, 13 of them swinging. He’s allowed only two balls to be put in play, one that went for a groundout and another that went for a single.

That’s it. Josh Donaldson hit that single leading off the top of the eighth in Game 1. Miller simply struck out the next three batters he saw to leave Donaldson right where he was.

“He’s got a good fastball, he’s got a good slider. Even when he gets behind in counts, he’s able to throw some sliders that are pretty good pitches,” Donaldson said. “He just makes quality pitches and he’s deceptive. I don’t have to sit here and tell you how good he is. Everybody knows that.”

Yes, that much is clear. And what’s made Miller even tougher is the fact he hasn’t been making mistakes. Most high-leverage relievers are going to be tough to square up. That’s why their teams use them in late innings of tight ballgames. But most mortals make mistakes. Whether it’s a mis-located pitch, or an inability to find the strike zone, or some bad batted ball luck.

Miller, on the other hand, has been close to perfect, spotting his fastball on the edges of the strike zone and not once leaving his slider out over the plate to this point in the series.

“And he’s got the velocity where he can get away with his mistakes even if he does make one,” says Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin. “That slider, it’s tough. It looks like a strike for a long time and then it kind of darts out of the zone. He’s a tough at-bat.”

So, how do you beat this guy? The reality is that if Miller continues to pitch the way he has been through the first two games of this series, it’s going to be next to impossible. He’s locating so well, throwing so hard, and putting so much movement on his pitches, that even baseball’s best hitters are going to have trouble finding a pitch to hit.

But the Blue Jays are hopeful that with repeated viewings of Miller, they’ll be able to find something, anything, in his game they can take advantage of.

“The more you see guys, the more the advantage goes to the hitter,” Martin says. “We’ve seen him twice already, so hopefully that allows us to maybe have better at-bats next time.”

“We’ve had some looks at him. And that’s to our benefit,” adds Barney. “This is a long series. And I’m sure that we’re going to see him some more. And the more you see somebody, the more information your computer gets in your mind. We know what he’s trying to get ahead with and we know what he’s finishing with. We’ve just got to make adjustments.”

And that’s the toughest part right there. The Blue Jays know what Miller’s doing to them. There’s just no way to combat it with the groove he’s in right now.

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