Last season was one of transition and adjustment for relief pitcher Andrew Miller and infielder/outfielder Dustin Ackley, a pair of former UNC baseball first-round draft picks who never played together in Chapel Hill but are now teammates with the New York Yankees.
This year has brought some personal stability and good health but trying times with their team, whose 8-15 record at one point represented the worst start for the Yankees in 32 years. They were 14-19 going into Friday’s games, in last place in the AL East.
“It is not where we want to be (but) it is a long season,” said Miller, 30, who did not allow a run in his first 11 outings this season. “We like the people we have here. I think we know what we are capable of. We were one of the better clubs in baseball last year. We have to find a way.”
“If we swing the bats we will win a lot more games,” said Ackley, 28, standing in the Yankees clubhouse in Baltimore recently. “We are a sleeping giant.”
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A product of North Forsyth High in Winston-Salem, Ackley was the second overall pick out of UNC in 2009. He made his big league debut two years later and played in 584 games with Seattle before he was traded last July by the Mariners to the Yankees for Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez.
“I guess it is a shock any time you get traded,” he said. “I had heard some (rumors) and was taking it day-by-day. I was kind of shocked when it did happen.”
While Ackley has had to adjust to a utility role, left-handed flamethrower Miller is coming off the best season of a big league career that began in 2006 with the Detroit Tigers.
Miller was 3-2 with an ERA of 2.04 with 36 saves in 38 chances last season for the Yankees and was named the 2015 Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year. “He has unbelievable stuff,” Ackley said.
The Yankees signed Reds closer Aroldis Chapman after the 2015 season but he was suspended the first 30 games this season due to a domestic abuse case (later adjusted to 29 games because he got credit for a rain-out).
With the return of Chapman from his suspension, Miller, who signed a four-year contract with the Yankees in 2014 extended through 2018, moves to the role of setup man.
“What do you want me to do? You want me to throw a fit?” Miller, told New York reporters Sunday. “The goal here is to win... It doesn’t matter if you’re saving games for a last-place team.”
While Miller never knows what night he will pitch, Ackley also has to deal with uncertainty as a reserve player for Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
“It is tough. My opportunities are as a spot starter,” Ackley said. “It is something I have to be prepared for. You have to be prepared day in and day out.”
Ackley hit .288 in 23 games down the stretch last season for New York.
“He has to come off the bench for the most part,” Miller said of Ackley. “The more positions you can play the better chance you have to get in there and help us. He doesn’t have a ton of at-bats; it is tough not getting regular at-bats.”
Editor’s note: David Driver can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com