LOS ANGELES -- Sometimes, it just takes perspective from a new angle to find what you are looking for.
For the Dodgers, they received a much-needed performance Sunday from a rookie pitcher who has treated every outing over the last four months as the biggest test of his life’s ambition. Since arriving on the scene in May, Bobby Miller has looked at every opponent as the one who can take it all away.
On Sunday at Dodger Stadium, Miller turned 16 Major League starts of knowledge into the signature outing of his young career thus far.
The Dodgers might have been in desperate need of a victory to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of the Braves, but Miller has been in something of a must-win mode for some time now.
Miller’s career-best seven innings helped him move closer to a prominent role for the playoffs and set the pace in a 3-1 victory that came after the Braves won the first three games of the series.
Miller gave up one run on three hits by leaning into his 100 mph fastball, even if the Braves have shown they eat velocity for lunch. And Miller didn’t even have all options at his disposal.
“Especially after getting our teeth kicked in the first three games, we really needed this one today and I was really locked in,” said Miller, who helped prevent the Dodgers’ first four-game losing streak since early June. “I had a great feeling going into this game; probably the most locked in I have ever been so far.
“I knew I needed my best stuff and still, I don’t think the breaking balls were that great today. But luckily, I had the changeup to keep them off the fastball a little bit.”
In one afternoon, Miller showed the kind of performance that would be huge come October. At the same time, he showed the growth that gives manager Dave Roberts the confidence to place his young flamethrower in a prominent role.
“You learn more from players when playing them and seeing how they respond to certain situations, certain teams,” Roberts said. “He was unfazed today by the opponent, by the desire for us to win a baseball game and salvage [something from] the series. He felt it, but he wasn’t fazed by it.”
After his first 15 starts came against 15 different teams, Miller was facing a team for the second time in consecutive starts. On Monday, he faced the D-backs for the second time and closed out that outing with a flourish, retiring the last eight batters he faced.
He was even better against the best home run-hitting team in baseball, although Matt Olson did tag Miller for a long ball in the seventh inning.
“Execution is what it all comes down to,” said Miller, whose previous longest outing was 6 1/3 innings on Aug. 22 against the Guardians. “I’m trying to get guys out on four pitches and if I don’t, get them out on the next pitch. Make a good pitch. Sometimes I don’t, but that’s usually a goal, to not have super long at-bats and not walk a ton of guys.”
Consider Braves manager Brian Snitker impressed.
“That's kind of effortless 99 to 100 [mph] and he's got good secondary stuff,” Snitker said. “That's a good-looking young pitcher right there. He's a strong kid and I love his delivery."
After an extra-inning game Saturday, Miller’s efficient 96-pitch outing was just what the Dodgers needed. Shelby Miller pitched the eighth inning and Brusdar Graterol pitched the ninth, earning his seventh save. Right-hander Evan Phillips was not available after recent usage.
Another Dodgers rookie, James Outman, tacked on an insurance run in the eighth inning with an RBI single.
“Bobby pitched his butt off today,” Outman said. “It was fun to play behind. There were a lot of bad swings. He’s nasty. He was keeping guys off-balance and made things easy for the defenders.”
The importance of the Dodgers getting help from two rookies in a big game against the Braves was not lost on Outman.
“I think it was good exposure for all of us, just getting used to that high level,” Outman said. “They’re a good team; they’re a playoff team. The more times we play like that, the better prepared we’ll be.”
As more tests of that preparedness arrive, the stoic Miller believes he has locked into a mindset he plans to use as the days get shorter and the games get hotter in intensity.
“Just don’t get too high when things are going good and just try to hold my energy and stay composed out there,” Miller said. “Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.”