The Dodgers always planned for Miller to make his Major League debut during the 2023 season, but not even they envisioned it happening after four starts -- unimpressive ones, at that -- in the Minors.
Injuries to the starting rotation forced the Dodgers to call up Miller last month. Naturally, there were questions on whether Miller was ready for his callup. Three starts into his big league career, the Dodgers’ 2020 first-round Draft pick has left little doubt that he belongs at this level.
Facing the Yankees on national television was always going to be Miller’s toughest test to date, and the young right-hander aced it, striking out seven over six scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ 4-1 loss on Sunday at Dodger Stadium.
“Man, he’s really impressed,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “You just never know how he’s going to handle moments, you know, young players. This is certainly the … most adrenaline he’s probably ever felt. Biggest game for him. And he just handled it so well.”
As he dealt with expected nerves and added adrenaline, Miller’s outing started with a five-pitch walk to Gleyber Torres. But as he’s shown over the last three weeks, that didn’t phase him and he bounced back to strike out Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton. He followed the second walk of the inning by punching out DJ LeMahieu.
Once Miller got through the first inning, he was able to settle in nicely. In fact, Miller didn’t allow a hit until Anthony Volpe roped a two-out single into center field in the fifth. Miller became just the second Dodgers pitcher since at least 1901 to go five or more innings and allow one or zero runs in each of his first three career appearances, joining Kenta Maeda in ‘16.
“It’s super impressive,” said Dodgers catcher Will Smith. “See him come out, it was his third start now against three really good teams. Doing what he’s been doing, it’s impressive. It’s been fun being back there calling pitches for him. Excited to see him in five days and keep it rolling.”
What stood out in Miller’s scouting report is his ability to light up the radar gun, consistently flashing 99 mph and often touching triple digits. But through three Major League starts, Miller’s secondary pitches have really stood out. In his first two starts, Miller leaned on the changeup and curveball.
On Sunday, Miller went to a slider he’s been working on. It had more velocity and the spin was tighter, which fooled the Yankees’ hitters. Miller recorded 11 of his 14 whiffs with the slider.
“It felt really good,” Miller said. “Been working on my slider a lot lately, so I was kind of leaning toward that today. Didn’t really need my other two pitches. Kind of was sprinkling a curveball and changeup in there, but I thought the fastball command was a lot better today.”
Miller’s outing ended after six innings and 86 pitches. Roberts said Miller could’ve gone back out for the seventh, but the Dodgers want to be cautious with the right-hander considering he hasn’t logged many innings since missing time with the shoulder injury.
Behind Miller, the Dodgers also had their top three relievers -- Brusdar Graterol, Evan Phillips and Caleb Ferguson -- available. It’s a trio Los Angeles has trusted all season, but all three relievers allowed at least one run, which led to the Dodgers dropping the three-game series to the Yankees. Offensively, it was also the first game all season that Los Angeles’ Nos. 1-4 hitters all went hitless in a game.
“You got to give credit to those guys,” Roberts said. “Obviously, with the pitching performance that we had from the starter, you like to think you can win that game, but that’s why you play nine.”
While Miller didn’t pick up a win, he has now earned a few more starts in a shaky Dodgers rotation that is desperately looking for pitchers to step up. If there was any doubt that Miller was ready for this stage, that all went away on Sunday.
“Wow. Yeah, he was firing today,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “I mean, that’s a big-time arm. I’ve heard about him now for a little while, and that arm came as advertised.”