WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- After two years of frustration while he was a member of the Orioles – he posted a 5.75 ERA and 1.7 WHIP in 43 starts -- veteran left-hander Wade Miley got a call from an old friend back home in the winter of 2017 offering
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- After two years of frustration while he was a member of the Orioles – he posted a 5.75 ERA and 1.7 WHIP in 43 starts -- veteran left-hander Wade Miley got a call from an old friend back home in the winter of 2017 offering to help him rejuvenate his career.
“I made it real simple,” Chris Westcott said. “You’ve got two options: You either work hard, or you’re going to milk cows. It’s up to you.”
Miley certainly isn’t against hard work, but throwing a baseball is all he had ever done, and he wasn’t up for a career change at 31 years old. Miley put his faith in Westcott, his pitching coach in Louisiana since he was 15 years old, to help get him into shape and back on track.
“I reached out to him and said ‘Hey man, I’ve seen some film, seen some things I think can help you with if you want to put in the work,’” Westcott said. “And he did and made a couple of changes from Baltimore. He had the year he had last year. It’s been fun.”
Miley pitched last season with the Brewers, who signed him to a Minor League contract after he posted a 5.61 ERA with the Orioles in 2017. He strained his groin last spring and later his oblique, keeping him out of action until July. He returned to go 5-2 with a 2.57 ERA in 16 starts for the Brewers and then compiled a 1.23 ERA over four postseason starts.
The Astros signed the veteran left-hander to a one-year, $4.5-million deal for 2019, with another $500,000 possible in incentives. He’s the Astros’ latest 30-year-old-plus reclamation project, with the club hoping he can be as good as Charlie Morton. It’s not surprising the Astros are getting Miley to pitch up in the zone more to set up his curveball and have squeezed a bit more velocity out of his fastball.
“He’s a veteran guy, he knows this league, he’s been in the American League before, and now he’s advanced to the point of the type of numbers he put up last season,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “He provides a lot of versatility for us.”
Miley’s career resurgence might have begun a few months before his phone call from Westcott. In a game against the Rays in Tampa on July 25, 2017, Miley gave up five runs in the second inning and was upset. He took his slider grip and threw it as hard as he could and – voila – a cutter became his best pitch. In his next start, he threw 85 cutters from among 105 pitches.
“Wade is a great self-evaluator, and he was the first guy after 2017 that said, ‘I’ve got to make some changes, or I’m not going to do this anymore,’” said Tom O’Connell, Miley’s Tampa-based agent.
Westcott, who had coached Miley in summer ball, got Miley to focus on his balance and getting out in front while he was delivering the ball. Westcott said Miley wasn’t hiding the ball well, which led to a high contact rate. He’s routinely getting ahead of hitters now.
“We worked on that, but the big thing we worked on was getting out front, making him reach,” Westcott said. “Once he started reaching is when he started throwing strikes again.”
Miley calls Westcott a mentor and a friend.
“He’s a guy back home that I can go to,” he said. “He knows my delivery. He just keeps me in check a little bit.”
Miley’s father could see the disappointment and frustration in his son’s struggles of ’16 and ‘17, which is why he told Westcott he needed to call him. He knew his son wouldn’t ask for help.
“Just made him grow up and become a man and real confident,” Wendell Miley said. “We’re fortunate to be able to call someone like Chris to tell him what he needs and keep him in the game. For a little while, when he was struggling you’ve almost lost the love of the game. He helped bring that back to him. Very happy for that.”
And you can credit Westcott for helping Miley become one of the fastest workers in the game, which everyone likes – especially the infielders and Hinch.
“He’s just ready to pitch,” Hinch said. “He’s always been that way. This is something he’s done since he was a younger player. We watched so many games and have been around so many different pitchers, it’s noticeable. He doesn’t take the victory lap when he gets a guy out. He just gets on the mound and pitches.”
Beats milking cows.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.