In 2003, the top lefthanders in the minor leagues were Cole Hamels,
Scott Kazmir and a late-bloomer in the Dodgers system, 18-year-old Greg
While Hamels and Kazmir had lengthy amateur résumés, Miller was a
relative unknown who was throwing in the mid-80s late in his high
school career. A tweak here, some better conditioning there, and Miller
started pumping mid-90s lightning while throwing three other pitches
He was still 18 in September 2003 when Hideo Nomo got hurt, and the
Dodgers needed a replacement in the big league rotation. They chose
Edwin Jackson, an equally precocious righthander, but nearly tabbed
Miller to take the mound. Instead, Miller went to Arizona to see
Jackson beat Randy Johnson to get his first big league win and finished
the year in Double-A.
“I didn’™t feel fatigued at all,” Miller says. “I was settling in at
Double-A, I thought, and was throwing well. Through the whole year my
arm felt great, from April through Sept. 20.”
Miller remembers Sept. 20 because it’™s when throwing started to
hurt. He was throwing in the bullpen back in Jacksonville when his
biceps tightened up. “I had never felt like that before,” he says. “I
couldn’™t extend my arm.”
Soon, he had an MRI, and as he says, “that started it.”
Miller hasn’™t pitched in a game since, but he hopes he might be seeing the end of it thanks to a second surgery in late January.
Miller’™s first operation was arthroscopic surgery on his left
shoulder in March 2004. The Dodgers expected him back by June or July
last season. Instead, he missed the whole year. Miller would progress
well with his throwing program, long tossing to build up his arm
strength, but when he got back on a mound, inflammation and soreness
returned in the shoulder. Finally, the Dodgers and Miller found the
problem during an MRI exam. The tip of his shoulder blade was shaped in
such a way that it was causing the inflammation by rubbing up against
tissue in the shoulder.
Surgery was performed to shave down the bone, hopefully precluding
further inflammation and giving Miller a chance to get back on the
mound pain-free. The procedure technically is known as acromioplasty,
the surgical reshaping of the acromion (the tip of the shoulder blade).
“He’™s going to be fine,” Dodgers farm director Terry Collins said.
“I know Greg’™s real frustrated with it, and it was a disappointment
that they had to go back in there. But now we know there was a reason
he had the discomfort. We’™re going to make some correction to make him
more comfortable in his delivery.”
No one knows more about his shoulder than Miller, who seems to have
filled his down time by learning what has been wrong with him. He
sounds like Dodgers surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe as he rattles off his
diagnosis, throwing out phrases such as “type 3 acromion” and “too much
external rotation” with alacrity.
He spent the year rehabbing in Vero Beach, Fla., and watched plenty
of the high Class A affiliate’™s games. “I really couldn’™t tell you what
I did with my day,” he says. “I have 12 hours to find a way to burn.”
Now, he’™s ready to get down to business throwing. He has begun his
rehab at Physiotherapy Associates in Tempe, Ariz., and will only start
throwing after Dr. Jobe examines his arm in early March.
Understandably, the 2002 supplemental first-round pick doesn’™t want
to put a timetable on his return, considering how well timetables
worked for his return in 2004 that never happened. When he does return
to the mound, Collins pledges the Dodgers will monitor his pitch
counts, workload and mechanics more closely than they did in ‘™03, when
he threw 143 innings.
“There were some things that have been done that we need to
recalculate a bit,” Collins said. “We want to make sure he doesn’™t pull
off and get hyperextended (in his delivery); his front side will come
off a little bit fast at times. We want to make sure he stays together
a little bit more.”
It’™s too early to tell if his electric stuff will return to his
pre-injury levels. His season won’™t start on time. But barring more
setbacks, Miller will pitch in 2005.
“It’™s definitely been a frustrating process,” says Miller, who
blames the structure of his shoulder blade for the injury rather than
any overuse by the organization. “But I’™m just excited about this
surgery, hopefully my last surgery. I definitely have goals for this
year, but with all I’™ve gone through the last year or so, I’™m going to
keep those goals to myself.”
Contributing: Alan Matthews.