A broken-bat bloop from Colorado Rockies right fielder Eric Young Jr. is the only thing that separated Shelby Miller from a perfect game Friday night.
The St. Louis Cardinals No. 5 starter got his fifth win, but that statement doesn’t even touch the gravity of his performance.
Miller dominated from the moment he took the mound. He owned the entire strike zone with ridiculous control and maintained his velocity through all 113 pitches, topping out with a four-seam fastball clocked at 97 mph.
He didn’t look like a 22-year-old rookie who was still a little rough around the edges. He looked like a seasoned veteran, well-poised and on a mission.
As Miller stepped back onto the field for the final three outs of a game many big league pitchers will never experience, you could sense the energy. His team wanted it for him as much as he wanted it for himself.
In the end, he sent 27 straight batters back to the bench with their heads hanging low.
While he’s only made seven starts this season, Miller is the real deal, and he’s just getting started.
Friday’s start showed people outside of St. Louis that this kid is the top early contender for NL Rookie of the Year honors.
Here are a few notes regarding Miller’s early-season performance and why it’s time to take notice.
On the surface, finishing with a 1.58 ERA may not be a big shock early in the season, but major league hitters simply aren’t hitting him.
Even when they do hit him, they’re not stringing together hits. As a result, in 45.2 innings, he’s given up only eight earned runs on 29 hits.
In Friday night’s game, the frustration in the eyes of the batters said everything you need to know about Miller’s start to the season.
Miller has racked up only 11 walks to go with 51 strikeouts. That point I mentioned a moment ago? This number also illustrates it quite well.
While strikeout pitchers haven’t been the norm for the Cardinals in recent years, they definitely have one in Miller. The lesson on pitching to contact was one Miller must have missed.
His 13-strikeout performance tied an all-time Cardinals record for most Ks in a game by a rookie.
While the strikeout numbers are flashy and fun to look at, the walk total says a lot about this young man’s control. He keeps the ball over the plate but works the corners well.
On a side note, of his 11 walks, four of them came in his first start of 2013. He has only seven over the remaining six starts.
That’s crazy good.
Deep Pitch Counts
Miller has crossed 100 pitches four times so far, and thrown 113 pitches three times.
Even on the occasions that he didn’t go deep into a start, Miller is still getting deep pitch counts.
Never this season has Miller thrown fewer than 95 pitches in a start. Sure, strikeout pitchers will throw more, but a rookie who is averaging more than 100 pitches per start is the exception and not the rule.
This isn’t a trend I would expect him to keep up all season, because the Cardinals don’t want him to run out of gas too early. However, there has been no talk of an innings limit or a need to shorten his appearances.
So far in 2013, manager Mike Matheny has shown a strong willingness to let his pitchers go deep into games. Some of that has to do with bullpen concerns early in the season, but it must have more to do with a strong faith in his pitchers.
He depends on them (and catcher Yadier Molina) to let him know when it’s time to sit down. If they tell him they’re good to go, he’s taking them at their word.
It seems to be working—and Miller is responding to that trust.
Miller knows the role his team plays in his success, and he respects it. The reputation that arrived in St. Louis ahead of Shelby Miller didn’t lend one to expect a humble young man who knows his place, but that’s exactly what we’ve seen from him.
In postgame interviews, Miller doesn’t spend much time talking about “his” performance and “his” control. He does, however, love to talk about “his” catcher, Yadier Molina.
The right-handed rookie from Houston knows that there is much more to this game than just what he brings to the table. He always credits Molina, even before himself, with every win.
He’s quickly learned the true value of an elite catcher, and it’s helping him grow as a pitcher.
With that said, Miller deserves the credit for Friday night. A catcher can put down fingers all night, but if the pitcher misses his location, the team doesn’t win.
It’s as simple as that.
All that said, don’t expect him to keep up this pace all year. Even the great ones have their struggles from time to time, so to expect a rookie to keep this up isn’t realistic. Or is it?
Regardless, after Friday’s start, there’s simply no debating Shelby Miller is the clear front-runner in the NL Rookie of the Year race.
Kudos to Miller for one of the greatest starting pitching performances I’ve witnessed—ever. Something tells me we’ll be seeing a lot of fireworks in St. Louis during this young man’s career.
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