GOODYEAR, Ariz. — His name is Corky Miller, and that’s no nickname. Corky is his given name.
And what the 37-year-old catcher gives the Cincinnati Reds is immeasurable. It is one of the reasons that despite spending most of his 16 professional years in the minor leagues that Miller is one of the most popular guys in the Reds clubhouse.
Miller barely has four years of service time in the major leagues, but 16 years of experience in the minors is probably a better way to absorb the game.
And what he has absorbed, he passes on to other catchers, but mostly to pitchers.
“Corky is a pro, and I told him last year that I felt one day he will make a fine pitching coach,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “He knows the pitchers. He calls an excellent game, and he knows when they are doing something mechanically wrong.”
And Baker has a special assignment for Miller this spring — helping young catcher Devin Mesoraco.
“I told Corky to watch Mesoraco, in particular, because Mesoraco really respects him,” Baker said. “He is not a coach yet, but he is on the way, and I want to keep him as long as I can.”
Asked how tough it is for Miller to accept his role, Baker said: “Well, it beats the alternative. Where else are you going to make what he makes (close to $100,000 a year at Triple-A) for working six months out of the year? It sure pays the bills.”
How much does Miller know about the pitching staff? His rundown of the rotation is insightful and incisive:
BRONSON ARROYO (12-10, 3.74):
“He is always the same and never changes. This year, he seems a little freer in his delivery, if that’s possible, and he has a little more velocity. Hitters know what they are going to get (pitches that helicopter to the plate at 68, 72 and 76 mph), but they can’t sit back and wait because he will get the fastball on you if you are looking for the breaking ball.
“He sees hitters as well as anybody and knows he can get them out with his stuff. If you give him Aroldis Chapman’s stuff, he might not get people out because he wouldn’t know how. He is one of the smartest guys around.”
MAT LATOS (14-4, 3.48):
“He’s different. He has powerful stuff and he is starting to understand it. We’re finally getting him to trust his stuff. I don’t think he did until the last couple of years. Now he attacks the zone with his power stuff, as evident last year. It is showing that he is growing up and knows what he has to do and he is competing with his stuff. His demeanor has changed, too. You have to be like that in this game — understand that bad things are going to happen and you just need to concentrate on what you’re doing and then things are going to happen for the best for you most of the time.”
JOHNNY CUETO (19-9, 2.78):
“He knows he doesn’t have to prove anything, but he never lets down. He has proved how good he is but he still competes without letting up. He wants to win and works really hard. People don’t see that, but he works extremely hard between starts.
“And he trusts the catchers. When you have a lot of pitches and real good stuff, some pitchers don’t understand what to throw. But he follows his catchers, and his stuff is just electric. His fastball and his real good changeup lets him just show that breaking ball once in a while to get them thinking about it, then they don’t know whether to sit on a downward changeup or a rising fastball.”
HOMER BAILEY (13-10, 3.68):
“Ah, Homer. What can you say? He is getting where he wants to be, but he won’t be satisfied. Even after throwing the no-hitter, I’m sure he wants to throw five more and will do everything he can to do that. He has harnessed his repertoire, and he understands a little bit better about how to pitch. It has taken a while, but he is there and he is getting better and better.
“When he first came up, sometimes his competitiveness hurt him, but in the long run it has helped him. Now he keeps pushing himself to get himself higher and higher. And as long as he stays healthy, he is going to be around a long time.”
AROLDIS CHAPMAN (5-5, 1.51):
“If he wants to start and they want him to, he can. My experience with him is that wherever they put him, he will be OK with it and do what he’s asked. He’s a competitor, too, and he’ll do it wherever. That’s the way he is. He just wants to pitch.
“I’ve never caught a pitcher who throws so hard consistently. I remember guys like Billy Wagner who could throw 100. There were a few guys who threw 97 and 98, and that was considered hard. Now everybody seems to throw 97 or 98. But Chappie is a different breed.”