It's Miller Time Again!

VERO BEACH, Fla.-- "I bet you thought you'd never see this day come, " said Greg Miller to a reporter, who had come to Dodgertown's Field One. "I've been waiting for it, but not as long as you have," was the reply. For Miller was about to face live competition for the first time in over 20 months

As he leaped over the foul line on his way to the mound (some of the game's superstitions live on), it might be said that it was a moment that just about everybody connected with the Dodgers had anticipated eagerly. Miller, you understand, has never been just another hopeful. When he went out with shoulder aches in September 2003, he was rated the top pitching prospect in the organization -- maybe, in all baseball.

That year he had started with Vero Beach, finished in Jacksonville. Between the two, he was 12-5 with a 2.21 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 141 innings, a 6-4, 190-pound teenage lefthander with a glittering future that had become clouded by the ache in his pitching shoulder.

It was not considered major at first; a minor arthroscopic procedure could fix it in a few months. But as the months dragged on and the problem didn't seem to go away, it was finally determined that a shaving of his left clavicle was necessary. That operation followed.

Tuesday, after all those dreary months of rehabilitation, Greg was to face some young Dodgers in a camp game, limited to 20 pitches. His first seemed like a medium fast ball that was promptly whacked into left field for a single. Was this to be one of those, "Oh, well, at least he's throwing again," days?

The answer followed quickly as his next pitch contained much more life and was bounced to short. A flip to second and on to first for the double play. Two pitches, two outs.

He was reaching into his arsenal for the next batter. Ball one, ball two, ball three, ball four. To an observer sitting next to pitching coach George Culver behind a screen erected just behind home plate, it seemed that at least two, maybe three of those offerings had caught corners. The groans from the bench grew audible, Culver shook his head at the calls. "C'mon, Jimmy," another angry coach yelled at the umpire.

Miller calmly went after the next man who hit a weak pop fly out. With three outs, he looked toward the bench. "Stay out there," Culver ordered.

The next pitch was ball one, again a marginal one that again went in the batter's favor. The next two were dribbled foul, then one that was definitely wide that caused Miller to shake his head in annoyance at himself. The pitch that followed bit down nastily in a manner the players call, "filthy", The batter swung over it and departed.

"One more hitter, " declared Culver. Another sinker for strike one, a ball outside, a curve that swept over for strike two, then a slow hopper to second and his work was nicely done.

"Where was I?" Greg asked the player who had held the speed gun, "86-88?"

"Are you kidding ? You hit 93 and 94. Most of them were 90-91."

Afterwards, Greg observed, " Not bad for the first time, I guess. I threw mostly fast balls, maybe three curves, three changeups and a slider."

Did the questionable calls bother him? "Not really. That happens. It was just good to be out there. I feel great."

What's next?

"At least one more time here, probably Saturday. I hope to throw more pitches then."

His arm slot, he declares," is my old one. I did fool around and drop down while I was rehabbing but I started feeling good so I'm back over the top. I wasn't satisfied with my velocity so I have to build arm strength."

He's fallen down on the charts since that heady second season. He might even have dropped out of the minds of many watching the progress of the likes of Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, and Chuck Tiffany. Please remember, though, he's only 20 years old and if he can throw consistently like he did on this day, he's definitely someone to consider at or near the top of the heap.