Shelby Miller Gets Back On Track In Second Half
ST. LOUIS — After Cardinals pitching coordinator Brent Strom watched the team's top prospect, righthander Shelby Miller, throw a bullpen session during spring training, he had one impression.
This was not the same guy he remembered.
Miller, the 19th overall pick in the 2009 draft, had slimmed down during the winter, losing what the Cardinals feared was some needed muscle, and his mechanics had eroded. His fastball lacked pop. And at the start of the season so did his performance. In his first turn at Triple-A Memphis, Miller was erratic, prone to homers and what he called "ugly innings," and, most of all, too reliant on his fastball.
"With all the anticipation it seemed to be lost that the (Pacific Coast League) is extremely difficult," Strom said. "He's 21 there. He had to learn to pitch."
Miller continued what had become an ascendant stretch with 12 strikeouts in seven innings on Aug. 21, giving him 50 strikeouts against one walk in seven starts (43 innings). Miller's 144 strikeouts were the second-most in the PCL, and his overall season of 9-10, 5.04 in 25 starts looked all right with a 5-2, 3.21 stretch in eight starts.
The epiphany came when the Cardinals gave him a midseason break. An official called it a chance to reset, though it came with strings attached. Strom visited Miller and with the help of Memphis pitching coach Blaise Ilsley looked at video of Miller throwing in low Class A. Miller worked to regain those mechanics and stop throwing across his body. He also was given a no-shake rule—he could not wave off the catcher's suggestion for a pitch. That idea was to force him to throw more offspeed pitches. That rule lasted two starts. The lessons lasted longer. The righty had been throwing his plus fastball more than 80 percent of the time before the rule, and after had steadily dropped as his faith in his curve and changeup climbed.
"He looks more like the Shelby that we know," farm director John Vuch said. "It's sort of the opposite of what happened early, when everything snowballed on him. He's starting to build on every start."
• First-round pick Michael Wacha became the third 2012 draft selection to reach Double-A when the Cardinals promoted him to the Springfield bullpen.
• By signing veteran Jake Westbrook to an extension for 2013, the Cardinals could have only one spot for starter Lance Lynn, rookie righty Joe Kelly and Miller next season.