In each of his first three starts, he’s gone at least six innings, while allowing:
• One run or less
• Three hits or fewer
• One walk or fewer
In doing so, he’s joined an exclusive club. It’s a club so exclusive, in fact, that he’s the only member.
That’s right: Miller, the Mariners’ No. 2 prospect, has started his career in a way no other starter has since at least 1901. In 19 innings through three starts, Miller has an 0.47 ERA and an 0.42 WHIP. Opponents are batting .111 against him, and he has picked up 18 strikeouts while allowing only one walk.
“Wow,” said manager Scott Servais. “Bryce Miller continues to roll.”
Against the Tigers, Miller wasn’t dominating the way he did in his debut, when he struck out 10 over six innings. Rather, he pitched to contact, picking up only three strikeouts but economizing on his pitch count. He threw just 82 pitches over his seven innings, managing to avoid trouble on several line drives off Detroit bats.
"We had a couple balls hit hard, but when you look up there after six innings, 70 [pitches], whatever it was, three hits, zero runs,” said Tigers manager A.J. Hinch. “He was very effective. We hadn't seen him before, and I can see why he's off to a good start to his career."
Coming into his start Saturday, Miller had been leaning heavily on his fastball, throwing it at least 70% of the time in his first two starts. But against a Tigers offense that seemed prepared to handle the heater, Miller needed to change things up.
“I know he’s got an elite fastball, but you need to have the secondary pitches going,” Servais said. “I just thought in the first inning, [Miller’s offspeed arsenal] wasn’t there. He was falling off, didn’t have the sharpness, crispness to it. … And he made a quick adjustment. You need to have more than one pitch when you go out there. He certainly did.”
Sure enough, Miller mixed up his repertoire in a way that he hadn’t so far: After throwing at least 70% fastballs in his first two starts, Miller threw only 49% fastballs against Detroit, leaning heavily on his slider (23%) and his curve (18%). He averaged 95.4 mph on his fastball, right in line with his season average of 95.6 mph.
The Tigers put runners on first and third with two outs in the first, but Miller induced a groundout from Nick Maton. After that, it was smooth sailing. Miller only allowed one more baserunner, a Javier Báez single in the 7th.
Miller is the second Mariners pitcher with a sub-1.00 ERA after three starts. He joins Félix Hernández, who posted an 0.86 ERA through his first three career starts in 2005.
“I wasn’t an avid watcher when he was in his prime, but it’s good company to be in,” Miller said.
If Miller’s 10-strikeout debut was his show-stopping introduction to the Major Leagues, this outing was another key milestone: A start in which he succeeded without some of his best stuff. Pitching to contact; adjusting on the fly; navigating a lineup by taking advantage of whichever pitch is working -- they’re all essential skills if pitchers want to succeed even when they’re not at their sharpest.
Servais credits Miller with another key attribute: Staying calm.
“A lot of times when you see young players like that struggle early, they panic a little bit,” Servais said. “ [But as for Miller], no panic at all. Just made a little adjustment, got on top of the breaking pitches, start[ed] finishing them off better and they were right there when he needed them.”
Miller has also been able to lean on Cal Raleigh, who has caught all three of his starts.
“You can go in with a game plan, but it’s up to the catcher to mix and have a feel for what the hitter’s looking for, what our pitchers are capable of doing and how they’re executing,” Servais said. “Our guys do a great job. Both Cal and [Tom Murphy] have been on top of it all year long.”
Miller agrees: So far, he’s put absolute trust in Raleigh, and the results speak for themselves.
“Whatever Cal calls,” Miller said, “I’ve been throwing it.”