Cleveland Indians reliever Andrew Miller took the mound with one out in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays Friday, which was the latest he had entered a game so far this postseason. Usually, this would be a pretty strange thing to say about a team’s best bullpen arm, but as soon as the Indians acquired Miller at the trade deadline, manager Terry Francona showed that he didn’t care if his relief management was weird so long as it was effective.
As by far the best guy in Cleveland’s bullpen, Miller would have been a lock for a traditional closer position for most managers. But Francona’s strategy meant that Miller entered games more often in the seventh inning (eight times) than he did in the ninth (five). In the playoffs so far, those entrances have come even earlier, notably including one during the fifth inning in Game 1 of the ALDS. Simply put, it meant that Francona has been using his best available pitcher when the stakes are highest. This should not be so difficult! Yet while this postseason has seen the Los Angeles Dodgers opting for the same philosophy by turning to closer Kenley Jansen in the seventh and ace Clayton Kershaw in the ninth for Game 5 of the NLDS, we’ve also watched the Baltimore Orioles refusing to use their best option as Zach Britton waited in the bullpen for an opportunity that never came in the AL Wild Card game.
So while the way that Cleveland has used Miller this season relies on a fairly simple idea (though there’s plenty of research to back it up), it’s still something fairly unorthodox. But so far, it’s worked, and Friday was another example. Miller took over from starter Corey Kluber with a 2-0 lead in the top of the seventh.
The result was five outs on five strikeouts, with Miller’s devastating slider getting some play in particular. That’s now 12 Ks in 5.2 postseason innings for Miller this year, with no runs allowed — and an undefeated Cleveland team, who kept that 2-0 lead to take Game 1 of the ALCS against Toronto.
Game 2 is today at 4 p.m. EST.