Miller 'the right guy on the mound' to give Mariners momentum

April 13th, 2024

SEATTLE -- Call it “Miller Time” or “cruise control” or anything in between, has firmly reached that territory.

The Mariners’ second-year starter continued his scoreless streak from last weekend in Milwaukee through his final pitch with one out in the seventh inning on Friday, the lone blemish being an unearned run he was charged after exiting. It was otherwise another outstanding performance on Friday night at T-Mobile Park, and it lifted the Mariners to a 4-2 victory over the Cubs.

Scott Servais doesn’t call it a winning streak until it’s three games in a row, but after Friday followed Thursday's thrilling victory in extras in Toronto, the team can go for its first such stretch on Saturday.

“Your momentum is only as good as your next day's starting pitcher,” the Mariners’ manager said. “And we had the right guy on the mound tonight.”

Aided by a bases-loaded breakthrough from Julio Rodríguez, who ripped a two-run single in the fourth and was followed by an RBI knock from Ty France, and Luis Urías, who was hit by a pitch in the second with two outs and the sacks packed, Miller settled in comfortably. He struck out only four and instead specialized in soft contact, with only six hard-hit balls among the 18 in play against him. Among those, only two landed for hits.

Beyond the unearned run, which manifested on an error by Urías, if there were stripes to Miller’s brilliant outing, the two-out hits he surrendered in the second, third and fourth innings might qualify, as would the three walks, including the four-pitch free pass that ended his night.

But that’d be splitting hairs, especially considering the recent struggles of the rest of his rotation mates. Miller now has a 1.96 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 18 1/3 innings, while holding hitters to a .553 OPS. And performances like Friday’s underscore the potential of Seattle’s starters once they’re all clicking, as they’re now 5-0 when throwing a quality start.

“I think every lineup is different and every game is different,” Miller said. “And I’m just going through lineups, attacking with my Plan A and adjusting to the hitters ... whereas last year, if I was getting hit early, I didn’t really know where to go.”

Miller hasn’t given up an earned run since a three-run homer in the fourth inning of his 2024 debut on March 31 vs. Boston. He’s not quite on the pace he started with in 2023, when he gave up just one run through his first three outings after debuting last May 2, but he’s not been far off, either.

Back then, he was almost exclusively a fastball pitcher, utilizing his high-riding four-seamer 63.3% of the time in that stretch. But now, it’s the fortification of his secondaries that have made him much tougher to match up against. The versatility of his arsenal has allowed him to reach new territory -- and the trust that comes with it -- by operating a third time through an opposing lineup and beyond.

In 2023, Miller had a 4.76 ERA and .697 opponent OPS that late in a game, while this year, it’s a .465 OPS and zero runs allowed.

“Really all of last year, like if I went short or if I went long, it was like, you're going to get a lot of heaters,” Miller said. “Even the third time through, they knew what they were getting. So as the game would go on, they'd seen it a couple of times and they know what's coming. And these hitters are good, so they can adjust. So that's one thing I wanted to work on -- being able to keep hitters on their toes every at-bat and where they can't just sit on a pitch and know it's coming.”

As for the offense, the Mariners chased an opposing starter before the fifth inning for the first time all season and did so on the heels of Rodríguez’s clutch moment -- which they sorely hope is a sign of things to come given his slow start.

Rodríguez, who’s hitting .200 with a .472 OPS, punched a fastball into shallow center field after chasing a first-pitch changeup -- on the heels of chasing strike three in the third and doing so again in the sixth.

“I expect myself to come through in those situations,” Rodríguez said. “It's not like it's something that if I come through, it's like, 'Oh my. I came through.' No, I expect myself to come up to the plate in those situations and deliver for the team.”