Astros counting on Miley to maintain '18 form

March 23rd, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As far as Astros manager AJ Hinch is concerned, the two woeful years that left-hander  spent with the Mariners and Orioles in 2016 and '17 are “null and void.” Hinch is convinced the '18 version of Miley with the Brewers is more indicative of what the Astros can expect, and their chances of making a deep run into October may hinge on that.

Signing Miley late in the offseason was part of Houston's path to cover the 500 innings lost in the starting rotation from last year’s team following the departures of Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel, and the injury to Lance McCullers Jr., who had Tommy John surgery.

Despite Hinch’s confidence in what Miley might be able to accomplish this year, the pitcher remains a great unknown as the Astros prepare to open the 2019 season.

“I just don’t think you can compare,” Hinch said. “They’re two different pitchers.”

Miley, who won 49 games between 2012-15 with the D-backs and Red Sox, went a combined 17-28 with a 5.48 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 2016-17 with the Mariners and Orioles. He discovered a cutter early in the ’17 season and he tweaked his mechanics and work habits, but Miley still had to sign a Minor League deal last year to try to re-establish himself.

He strained his groin last spring and he later strained his oblique, keeping him out of action until July. Miley returned to go 5-2 with a 2.57 ERA in 16 starts for the Brewers, and then he compiled a 1.23 ERA over four postseason starts.

“Last year in Milwaukee was a good situation,” Miley said. “I was blessed with the opportunity to get over there. It was a fun year. I was able to help those guys go pretty deep in the playoffs, and hopefully we can do that here.”

Instead of trying to stay down and away to right-handers, and sink the ball and throw an occasional slider, Miley has become a different pitcher, Hinch said.

“What you talk about is a guy who now crowds righties quite a bit with four-seamers and cutters, and still has the breaking ball, and will throw his changeup,” the skipper said. “It’s a different style, albeit a small difference that should help him the next go-round as a starter in the American League. He’s got a lot of experience, but I think he truly broke out last year in Milwaukee when he figured out the type of pitcher he needs to be.”

The Astros still have pair of workhorses at the top of their rotation in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole -- two top-five finishers in last year's AL Cy Young Award race -- and the club is inserting Collin McHugh back into the rotation after a year in the bullpen. A healthy and effective Miley would give Houston the depth many believe it can’t match from last year.

“We’re going to do it differently this year,” Hinch said. “As it pertains to Miley, I’m pretty confident that he’s going to keep us in games, he’s going to do his job as a starting pitcher, which is to get to the middle or latter third of the game with a lead. That’s what we ask of any of our guys and he’s equipped to do that.”