Miller proving his worth with each great start
ATLANTA -- As Shelby Miller masterfully sliced and diced Philadelphia's lineup on Tuesday night at Turner Field, he gave the Braves further reason to be satisfied with their choice to gain four years of his services in exchange for what would have been Jason Heyward's last year in Atlanta.
Those who might have lamented the November trade that sent Heyward to St. Louis have likely changed their tune as Miller has looked like nothing less than a potential ace through his first month with the Braves. The young hurler added to his early-season success with the dominant three-hit shutout he completed during Tuesday night's 9-0 win over the Phillies.
"He's still so young and he's going to continue to grow," Braves utility man Kelly Johnson said. "He's a special talent."
Miller has posted a 1.88 ERA in the 13 starts he has completed since spicing up his repertoire with a sinker late last season. In other words, the highly-acclaimed former first-round selection has been starting to live up to expectations for a while now.
But he had never previously been as impressive as he was during this efficient 99-pitch gem against the Phillies, who counted Cesar Hernandez's third-inning bunt single among their three hits.
Through his first six starts with Atlanta, Miller has produced a 1.66 ERA and limited opponents to a .178 batting average. Meanwhile, Heyward, who was expected to exit Atlanta as a free agent at the end of this season, entered Tuesday hitting .223 through his first 25 games with the Cardinals.
"You dream about going out there and trying to throw a complete game and stuff like that, especially against a team like Philly," Miller said. "They've got some guys in that lineup that have some power like [Ryan] Howard and they've got a lot of tough outs. At the end of the day, you've got to make pitches. Any offense is great and they're a MLB team for a reason."
Taking advantage of the overmatched Phillies lineup, Miller threw more than 10 pitches during just four of his nine innings. The 24-year-old right-hander needed just 31 pitches to face the minimum through the first four innings. He threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 31 batters he faced.
"First-pitch strikes are huge and ground balls are huge," Miller said. "It's all about staying in pitchers' counts. I felt like we did a good job of that. [Catcher A.J. Pierzynski] called a great game. I think I only shook him off once or twice."
Miller has now notched a shutout during each of his three career starts that have consisted of at least eight innings. He needed 113 pitches to toss a one-hit shutout against the Rockies on May 10, 2013, and 105 pitches to complete a three-hit shutout against the Blue Jays on June 7, 2014.
"It's so nice when you get guys who throw strikes, work quick and know what they want to do," Johnson said. "I think that comes from them knowing what they want to do from their preparation and their game plan. They execute and continue to feed off their own momentum."
After totaling 21 pitches from the start of the second inning through the end of the fourth, Miller actually had to sweat a little bit during a 21-pitch fifth inning that began with a Ryan Howard double. But Howard, who is 5-for-11 with three homers against Miller, was left stranded at second base after the Braves' hurler struck out two of the next three hitters he faced.
Miller was unfazed by the fifth-inning hiccup or the lengthy bottom half of the seventh during which his teammates produced the game's final three runs. He simply remained in command throughout an outing that displayed his potential dominance.
"At the end of the day, you have to go out there with the mentality that it's a nothing-nothing ballgame and just try to put up zeros," Miller said. "This was a fun one."