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Perspective: Kershaw, Miller on same track08/22/2007 4:05 PM ET
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Watching Clayton Kershaw jump up to make his Double-A debut recently at age 19 stirred a memory, almost a deja vu kind of thing, that we had all seen something like this before in the Dodgers organization.
Then I remembered. It was 2003 and a young left-handed fireballing phenom, who had begun the season by making his full-season debut in the Class A Advanced Florida State League, finished off a remarkable year by dominating Southern League competition over four starts. He was 18 years old, and the sky seemed to be the limit. Sound familiar?
Then Greg Miller, the Dodgers supplemental first-round pick in the 2002 Draft, began having shoulder problems. Serious ones. He didn't throw a competitive pitch in 2004, saw just 31 2/3 innings of work in 2005 and followed that up with 59 2/3 innings, only in relief, a year ago.
He's been healthy, finally, in 2007, but not always good. Even with a fastball that was back in the upper 90s and a devastating curve ball, his turn with Triple-A Las Vegas was disastrous. Miller posted a 7.85 ERA with 46 walks in 28 2/3 innings, as he put way too much pressure on himself to succeed at that level. So he went back to Double-A Jacksonville to get himself straightened out. He's been doing just that, especially lately, when he was greeted earlier this month with a younger version of himself in Kershaw.
"It's fun to watch him throw," Miller said. "There aren't too many guys that have -- I don't want to make it sound like we're off the charts -- but there aren't too many guys who have the stuff we have. It's fun to be able to watch him attack hitters with the good fastball and good breaking ball. When I watched him, it kind of clicked in my head a little. There's no reason for me to be nibbling at these guys. Don't be too fine with strike one."
Wait a second, Miller is getting pointers from Kershaw? Shouldn't it be the other way around, with the guy who's been around, struggled with adversity, mentoring the kid who just got there? Miller says it's hard not to pick things up from watching Kershaw on the mound. Besides, the new teenaged lefty phenom doesn't seem to need that much help.
"If you're not learning something from a kid like that with great stuff, [something's wrong]," Miller said. "If he wanted to come to me and ask me questions, I'm always there for that. But he's doing fine by himself. I try to let him experience that for himself."
They do seem to enjoy each other's company. In his last seven innings of work -- two relief outings and one start -- since Kershaw joined Jacksonville, Miller has allowed only two earned runs, striking out 11 and walking just one. His crowning achievement was a five-inning start in which he struck out seven and didn't allow a free pass, his first walk-free start of the season.
"Physically, I feel awesome," Miller said. "My shoulder has been 100 percent the entire season, and this is the first time I could say that. I'm feeling stronger than when I started. Early in the season, [I was] getting mentally exhausted in Vegas and that took its toll. Now my head is in the right place."
Kershaw, for his part, has made some impressive adjustments to Double-A life. He gave up six earned runs and eight walks over his first 8 1/3 innings, but then came back Monday with six innings of two-hit shutout ball. That ability to make changes quickly is the main reason why the Dodgers felt he was ready for this kind of leap at the end of the season.
"For me, he had really established himself in A ball, showed some domination at times," Dodgers farm director DeJon Watson said. "This will give him roughly five starts as an evaluation stage with the kid. Mentally, he's ready for the Double-A level. The physical tools say he's ready. Can he combine the two to execute his pitches against more advanced hitters?"
He did, at least in his most recent start. Watson joined the Dodgers this past November, so he wasn't there to watch Miller's quick ascension, nor his initial injury-related fall. Obviously, he knows all about Miller's history. But any farm director worth his salt will tell you that you can't let one guy's experience keep you from making a decision on another player. In other words, the Dodgers weren't going to keep Kershaw in the Midwest League just because Miller had moved quickly and then got hurt.
"I don't know if it's a cautionary tale," Watson said of Miller's past. "Everyone is different. Their mechanics, their builds, their genetics are different. You have to manage each guy individually.
"I'm sure there will be conversations along the way while they're together. They both have above-average fastballs, above-average breaking balls and a feel for pitching when it's working for both of them. Maybe they can feed off each other."
The Dodgers and the Suns are hoping they can do so into the postseason. Jacksonville is currently tied atop the Southern League South Division with 13 games remaining, the last five of which come against Montgomery, the co-leader in the division. It was precisely this environment the Dodgers wanted to put Kershaw into, to see how he would respond. Getting the chance to participate in a playoff race at any level can only be beneficial later on. For a teenager like Kershaw, it could help him get to the highest level even faster.
"You're trying to develop future Major League winners," Watson said. "You want to make sure they are doing the little things, like executing that second and third pitch, because they're going to need that at the higher level. We're not trying to grow Double-A players, we're trying to grow big leaguers.
"You look at the Andruw Joneses, the A-Rods, they got there early. The special ones get there early. It's too early to say for us [if Kershaw is like that], but we're trying to continue growing the kid. We want him to finish off strong, want to get him used to playing 140 games. We're trying to breed confidence and success all at the same time."
Watson may have been referring to Kershaw with those thoughts, but here's the amazing thing. They still very much pertain to Miller, as well. Despite all of the problems, all the missed time and shoulder woes, Miller won't turn 23 until November. Kershaw may be the young phenom and Miller may seem like the grizzled veteran because of the adversity he's encountered, but he's not old by any stretch of the imagination. If he can manage to stay healthy and continue to rediscover his command, we could still be talking about a very special left-hander reaching the big leagues at a pretty young age.
"It's been a nightmare of a season, truthfully," Miller admitted. "But I learned how to fail this year, something I've never experienced before. It's just a matter of being comfortable and trusting my stuff.
"I've definitely taken a lot different career path than most people, but I can't go back and change what happened. There's nothing else I can do about it. But to still be 22 and in Double-A, and find myself here for the last couple of weeks as we push for the playoffs, it's really important to me."
And it's still vital to the Dodgers' future success, just as much as whether the latest teenaged wunderkind can handle the jump.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.