Friday night's game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers was destined to be an interesting game. Not because of a division rivalry, but because of the story behind the two men taking the mound.
The battle of veteran pitcher vs. rookie stud in many ways went as it should.
The veteran looked solid, kept his count low and pitched deep into the game. The rookie showed his flash, but at the same time made it clear that he belongs with the big league club.
Former St. Louis pitcher Kyle Lohse received a warm welcome from the Cardinals fans, and Yadier Molina even stepped out from behind the plate to give him a moment to acknowledge the applause. It was a classy move by both the fans as well as Molina.
That was where the hospitality ended for the Brewers.
If Cardinals rookie pitcher Shelby Miller was intimidated by facing his predecessor on Friday night, one certainly couldn’t tell.
Miller dominated the Brewers' lineup, at one point setting down 17 batters in a row while giving up only one hit.
Pitch count was a problem for Miller early, with several batters taking him deep into counts. A 25-pitch first inning was his biggest hiccup, but he was dominant from there on—lasting seven full innings, throwing 113 pitches (87 for strikes).
Several batters took him deep into at-bats, but he kept coming out on top.
After a leadoff hit to start the game, Miller settled in. The only thing he gave up from that point on was a badly bruised hand to Alex Gonzalez in the second.
Aside from his eight strikeouts, Miller had 10 ground-ball outs and only two fly-ball outs. He managed to keep the hitters off balance to the point where they simply weren’t able to get the barrel of the bat on the ball to make solid contact.
Miller worked fast and smooth, relying heavily on his fastball throughout the game. He threw in the occasional curveball, but only with two strikes when he was chasing the out. He stayed ahead in the count.
Basically, he pitched like he was the veteran in the matchup.
Just one year ago, Miller was in Memphis struggling with his control and giving up huge run totals. After some minor corrections and a little time to mature, Miller returned to the game with a vengeance.
After getting back in his groove at Memphis, he was called up to St. Louis for the first time in his career. Most likely that will also be his last call-up.
Which of the Cardinals young pitchers has the highest ceiling?
For anyone who was still wondering whether the Cardinals should have re-signed Lohse instead of moving Miller to the rotation, now you have your answer. Sure, it’s still a small sample size (yeah, I know), but the talent is there, and it’s ready to face major league batters.
Ask Ryan Braun about Shelby Miller. Or Rickie Weeks.
Miller still has some growing to do as a pitcher. His changeup still needs a little work, but his curveball already looks good.
His biggest hurdle will be learning to be more efficient with his pitches as a starter. For a strikeout pitcher, which Miller is, that’s often a problem.
Pitchers who look for contact tend to get out of innings with fewer pitches. With that said, they also tend to give up more runs than strikeout pitchers like Miller or Trevor Rosenthal.
Don’t expect every outing from Miller to look like Friday night. He will have his struggles and hiccups just like every other pitcher.
When he does struggle, though, remember that game and know that the future is bright for him.
For Lohse to put up a solid effort at Busch Stadium, and lose, was a very fitting way for the organization to move forward from that era. The Cardinals are no doubt grateful for the solid years he gave them but are also looking forward to the future.
The pitchers are growing younger and the fastballs are coming faster. The pitching staff is evolving from one of finesse and experience to a rotation of power and youth.
While the names may change and the styles will shift, the winning nature of this organization is still in full force. A new crop of young Cardinals is ready to show that they have what it takes to keep that tradition alive.
That’s exactly what you saw from Shelby Miller Friday evening. The next generation is here.