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Aided by break, Miller tweaks pitching approach

ST. LOUIS -- Friday marked the three-quarter point in Shelby Miller's stretch of 12 days in between his last start and his next. And while the primary purpose of Miller's extended break was to get him rest and preserve innings for later in the year, the rookie right-hander found an indirect benefit, too.

With the luxury of having three side sessions scheduled during his break, Miller found an opportunity to work on a few specific mechanical and mental tweaks that he believes can help him regain his early-season form.

"[It is] stuff that I think will help me get my control back to where I want it to be," Miller said. "I know my last start [on July 10], it was a little off and a little wild. This break also helps me in that sense as well. Getting to throw three sides in between starts, you get to work on things, and I'm getting back more to where I need to be."

Miller threw two side sessions during the team's trip to Chicago just before the All-Star break. The first was of normal length (about 20-25 pitches). Miller made the second one longer (about 30-35 pitches) and approached it "more game-like," as he described. Miller was to throw one more side session during this first series of the second half before starting against the Phillies on Tuesday.

"Physically, I feel great," Miller said. "I feel like I'm where I need to be. These sides that I've been having, I'm just working on getting the ball down and throwing strikes. That's the biggest thing."

Miller enters the second half having already thrown 104 2/3 innings. If he stays healthy and in the rotation, Miller will easily surpass the 150 1/3 regular-season innings he pitched last season between Triple-A and the Majors. While the Cardinals haven't publicly revealed how many innings they are comfortable letting Miller throw this year, the right-hander said he has his sights set on 180.

He picked the number largely because hitting it would require Miller to be more efficient than he's been for much of the year. Understanding, too, that he doesn't want to exhaust himself before October, Miller welcomed this opportunity to save some innings.

Miller finished the first half 9-6 with a 2.92 ERA. He averaged 5 2/3 innings per start and struck out 112, while walking just 29.

"I think we've been very clear about giving Shelby as much time as we have and being smart with a young player," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's been working very hard in the gym and very hard on his mechanics and his diet and his program. If all those weren't in place, we'd be a lot more cautious and concerned. Right now we're just going to keep watching and listening to how his body responds with the number of innings that he gets."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.
Read More: St. Louis Cardinals, Shelby Miller