FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was a question that had to be asked of Red Sox relief pitcher Andrew Miller. What’s with all the hair?
The lefthander looks like a cleaner — and taller — version of the character Tom Hanks played in the film “Castaway.” Miller has shoulder-length hair and a bushy beard that hasn’t seen scissors in many months.
“It just kind of happened. I have no idea why,” Miller said Tuesday. “I’m holding strong against my wife, I guess is what it is.”
Katie Miller may have her way soon. Miller admits he needs a trim “pretty badly” and may get it done before the season.
“One of these days I’ll come in and it’ll be cleaned up a little bit,” he said.
Clean-cut manager John Farrell, who joked that conversations take place regarding Miller’s wild-man look, doesn’t want to change much else about the pitcher. After a series of fruitless seasons in the majors, Miller was consistently effective last year.
Miller appeared in 53 games and had a 1.19 WHIP over 40⅓
innings with 51 strikeouts and 20 walks. Lefthanders hit .149 against him with a .429 OPS.
At 27, Miller has found a role as a situational reliever after trying, and failing, in other roles.
The Tigers thought Miller would be a dominant starter when they selected him with the sixth overall pick of the 2006 draft. But he was rushed to the majors, struggled, and was one of six players traded to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis before the 2008 season.
Miller spent three frustrating years with the Marlins, getting hit hard as a starter and reliever, with occasional demotions to the minors. The Red Sox acquired him at a discount rate before the 2011 season, sending the Marlins lefthanded reliever Dustin Richardson.
Miller started 12 games for the Sox in his first season in Boston after beginning the year in Triple A Pawtucket. He was hit hard again before the Red Sox tried Miller out as a specialist last season.
That finally clicked.
“The mind-set is better for me,” said Miller. “For better for worse, it’s going to be over with in a hurry, and if you have a bad outing, you can make up for it the next day. As a starter, you have a lot on your shoulders and a lot of days to think about it.”
The Sox also adjusted Miller’s delivery, giving him less of a leg kick. At 6 feet 7 inches, that made him more efficient. The consistent work also helped him repeat his mechanics.
“He’s doing a much better job of being consistent establishing his release point,” Farrell said. “Body control is a little more challenging for taller guys. That’s why with his shorter leg kick it’s really given him an opportunity to control it and repeat his delivery and control the strike zone.”
Catcher Ryan Lavarnway said once Miller got into a habit of throwing strikes, he became “pretty scary” for opposing hitters.
“If you’re a lefty, it’s almost like the ball is coming from behind you because of how tall he is,” Lavarnway said. “Andrew has a great fastball and a curve. He creates great angles.”
Miller averaged just under 95 m.p.h. with his fastball last season and occasionally dabbled with 97 and 98. He became a pitcher the Red Sox could trust, and that has continued in spring training.
Counting Tuesday night’s perfect inning against the team Puerto Rico is sending to the World Baseball Classic, Miller has pitched four scoreless innings this spring with one walk and four strikeouts. He has allowed two hits.
“I’m not fighting for a job, and there’s not a lot of uncertainty. That’s nice,” Miller said. “But at the same time, I’m not in any position to assume anything, either. I have to be ready to go and perform like I’m capable of.”
Miller has come to appreciate the Red Sox after the Tigers traded him away and the Marlins gave up on him.
“It’s hard to believe this is my third year here,” he said. “I had three years in Florida and it seem like an eternity. It has flown by here and I’m happy to be part of this organization. They’ve been great to me. We haven’t accomplished the team goals we’ve had in mind, certainly. But winning is important and it’s a fun place to play. I’ve enjoyed it.
“They put a lot of faith in me. They got me to the big leagues and kept me here. They’ve taken care of me. I’m happy to be here.”
Meanwhile, Miller also is enjoying being the hairiest Red Sox player since Johnny Damon back in 2005. He said he feels comfortable even on warm days and his hat fits fine.
Miller has taken to wearing a T-shirt with an image of late distance runner Steve Prefontaine, who was known for his long hair. Daniel Bard gave him the shirt after Dustin Pedroia noticed the resemblance.
The only problem would be if Miller gets traded to the Yankees, who have a strict policy against long hair and beards.
“I don’t think they would have any interest in me,” Miller said, laughing. “I might have burned that bridge with this look. The Red Sox are good for me. We have all kinds of styles here on this team, all kinds of personalities. I fit right in.”Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.