Adam Miller's lingering finger injury has had major implications for the Cleveland Indians on two counts. The Buffalo Bisons' pitching slump directly dates to mid-May, when the Tribe's top prospect went down. More important, a healthy Miller would almost certainly be in the big leagues right now, getting flip-flopped from Buffalo with struggling sophomore Jeremy Sowers returning to Triple-A.
Prior to a game last week in Dunn Tire Park, Miller said he was optimistic his recovery was going well and that he would be back on the mound by the end of June. When he was examined earlier this month by Dr. Tom Graham, a noted Baltimore hand specialist, the Indians were likely holding their breath about a possible tendon rupture on the pitching hand that would have put Miller's season in jeopardy.
It turns out Miller simply had a sprained tendon above the middle joint of his finger. It would have been more serious if it had been on the joint where the finger meets the palm. And the best news? No rupture. So the three-month ordeal being endured by Detroit reliever Joel Zumaya was not an issue.
"That was good news to [find out] where exactly I was hurt but not good news it was sprained obviously," Miller said. "I was relieved that [Graham] told me he has a half-dozen of these a year and usually people get better. It was just sore, pretty inflamed. I don't know exactly what Zumaya has but I was glad it wasn't one of those deals. I just wanted [the pain and inflammation] to die down a little."
Miller, who didn't allow a run in 14 innings over three spring starts for the big club, was 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA in seven starts for the Bisons, and it was plain to see why he was the Herd's most highly touted pitching prospect since Bartolo Colon.
Miller threw seven innings in taking the loss May 12 against Rochester and began to notice pain and swelling in his finger the next day. Rest was prescribed and Miller got set to come back May 24 in Louisville.
But just a few minutes before making that start, Miller felt more pain in the finger and was shut down. Antennas went up throughout the Cleveland chain.
"I started throwing, and as soon as I got on the mound and turned it loose, the pain came back," Miller said. "I knew I had to get it checked out."
"He's got one gear and it's fast-forward," said Herd manager Torey Lovullo. "For him to pull back about five minutes before going to the dugout to start a game told us he's hurt. Here's a guy that's matured over the years [two years ago at Class A Kinston, Miller threw through elbow problems and came up with strained ligaments].
"He felt like he let the team down this year. That speaks volumes about the kind of kid he is. But it was smart and showed a level of maturity for me. It set off a red flag to me and everybody in this organization that it was time to rest him and get him feeling the right way."
Lovullo said he's encouraged by the throwing work Miller is doing with the finger taped. Miller began flat-ground throwing at distances of 75 feet Wednesday and wants to work up to 105 feet. He's scheduled to throw a bullpen session Wednesday in Norfolk and a simulated game June 21 or 22 in Dunn Tire Park. He could be ready to pitch a game at the end of Buffalo's next homestand or during its four-game set in Scranton that begins June 26.
"I'm trying to keep positive as much as possible," Miller said. "It's a pretty weird injury. I'm just waiting for it to get better. It stinks to get injured when you're doing bad and even more when you're doing well. I'm not too worried about [a possible call-up to Cleveland]. I was just more worried about this finger and staying healthy."
Miller's health is paramount to the parent club this season. He's the top option in Buffalo in case a spot start is needed or there's another injury to the Tribe staff. And with C.C. Sabathia possibly headed to free agency after next season, the Tribe needs to see if Miller can be the ace most experts think he'll become. But everyone is going to wait and be absolutely sure Miller is healthy before he goes back on the mound.
"We don't want to rush something now and be forced to play catch-up on the back end several weeks from now," Lovullo said. "As desperately as we want him back and need him now to solidify the rotation, we aren't going to fast-track him. He's the organization's top prospect, and everyone knows it. You have to be sure."
Trevor Hoffman became the first reliever in history to post his 500th career save Wednesday night when he closed the Padres' 5-2 win over the Dodgers. It was a case of one future Hall of Famer wrapping up things for another. The winner was Greg Maddux, who posted his 338th victory and is 10th on the all-time list.
"When we were looking at the lineup card after the game, it just looked right to have Maddux as the starting pitcher, Trevor getting the save," said manager Bud Black.
"It's cool," said Maddux. "I had a chance to witness history. The guy's doing something nobody in baseball has ever done. For me personally, I felt privileged to see it."
No. 500 made Hoffman 18 for 20 in save opportunities this season. He broke Lee Smith's career record of 478 last September in Pittsburgh and said getting to 500 was another unique experience.
"It's special in its own right," said Hoffman, who is routinely reticent about talking up his resume. "I think it's like trying to compare your kids to one another. They're special in their own way."
"Five hundred? God almighty, I don't even have 500 appearances," marveled 40-year-old Padres middle reliever Doug Brocail. "I never thought Lee Smith's record would be broken. I'd like to see Hoffy get 600. He's gotten this far. Why not add a century?"
Manager Ozzie Guillen is getting completely frazzled about his White Sox, who look like they're going nowhere behind the Indians and Tigers in the AL Central. When the struggling Yankees came to town, Chicago lost three of four. The bullpen has been brutal while the offense had a streak of 61 straight hitless at-bats against opposing relievers.
Guillen was disappointed Roger Clemens didn't pitch Monday against the Sox as scheduled because it would have taken some attention from his team's struggles.
"I want him to pitch," Guillen said. "I want people to forget how bad we're playing, at least for a day. I was prepared to answer questions about Clemens pitching, and now it's going to be, 'Why are you guys playing so [lousy]?'
"I'm done now. I'm the one who's going to pay the price. I'm going to call Joe Torre and ask him, 'Why don't you pitch this guy? You don't do me any good.' Now I have to deal with the media asking me about the White Sox."