Bringing the heat: Miller impresses again with six scoreless

May 25th, 2023

SEATTLE -- If he wasn’t already in must-watch territory, reached that mark with his latest dazzling effort on Thursday. And his pedigree is reaching well beyond the Pacific Northwest.

Miller carved through Oakland for six scoreless innings, surrendering just two hits and one walk while striking out six. Coupled with a five-spot in the fourth inning from Seattle’s offense, the Mariners ran away to a 6-1 win that put them back above .500 for only the fourth time this season.

Again, Miller deliberately turned to his high-riding fastball -- which is quickly becoming one of MLB’s best heaters -- and again, the opposition had no answers. He threw it 73 times over his 90-pitch outing, marking 81% usage, his highest in any of his five career starts. Miller saw a 0.5 mph downtick in velocity, but the effectiveness was as good as always.

“Honestly, I've been kind of surprised in all my starts with the amount of fastballs I've thrown,” Miller said. “But I mean, I'm just going to keep throwing them. It's working.”

Miller breezed through his first seven batters before surrendering a 99.9 mph single from Aledmys Díaz that chopped in front of shortstop J.P. Crawford and into the outfield. It was a challenging play, and one that had a .560 expected batting average, but Crawford typically snags those snares. If he had, tension certainly would’ve raised.

While he didn’t turn to the breaking balls as much, he maximized their effectiveness, using one of his variations of the slider for two strikeouts. 

“The main thing offspeed-wise I've been trying to work on is getting the slider -- or the cutter -- down on the back of the plate,” Miller said. “And the two the two strikeouts I had on it, were executed well. Whenever I execute that, it plays off the fastball a lot better than whenever I'm over the plate.”

Miller’s only other baserunners came in the sixth, via a hit-by-pitch to Esteury Ruiz and a bloop single to shallow center from Ryan Noda. But he retired his next two to end his outing, capped with a 94.9 mph elevated heater to Shea Langeliers.

“Finishing when you know you're at the end of your outing, it's really important for young guys to understand that,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It's something we've talked about with Logan [Gilbert]. George [Kirby] certainly understands it. Bryce is getting a feel for it and when it's time to empty the tank to go get that final out, it's really important to get it done.”

Miller hasn’t just been a pleasant surprise. He’s emerged as a rotation stalwart, which is saying something given that Seattle’s pitching staff leads the Majors with 9.6 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs.

Though Miller was long destined to contribute in 2023, especially after an impressive Spring Training, his opportunity manifested after Robbie Ray underwent season-ending Tommy John and flexor surgeries earlier this month. He was also Seattle’s second option after it tried Flexen in that role for four starts, but Seattle lost all four as Flexen struggled with 20 earned runs while opposing hitters clipped him for a .983 OPS.

They’ve since won four of five behind Miller. And the only loss in that stretch was last Friday in Atlanta, when he put them in position to win.

“When you lose a guy like Robbie Ray, and then you have a young guy come in like that and take the opportunity and run with it, it is just fantastic,” Servais said. “Great to see. And again, I've mentioned it earlier, but what a job by our people in player development, the pitching coaches and the people [that] have been around him, leading him to us here. He's been ready to go from Day 1.”

The difference in Thursday’s outcome was more run support, aided by a pass-the-baton approach from the Mariners’ lineup. 

Seattle sent 11 hitters to the plate and generated a few big hits from guys they’ve been hoping can pick things up, including a 102.2 mph single from Julio Rodríguez through the hole to right field and a 108.2 mph, two-run RBI double with the bases loaded from Sam Haggerty, who came up short in a similar situation in the second.

Strikeouts were still prevalent, with 13 total and seven against Ken Waldichuk, who followed opener Austin Pruitt and generated only one other out while giving up eight hits and three walks. But the Mariners will take it -- especially on nights where Miller is on the mound.