SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was a Triple-A game -- the kind of game Shelby Miller surprisingly wound up pitching in eight times last season. This time, on a cloudy Wednesday in Arizona, it was not demotion to the farm but devotion to the schedule that prompted Miller's appearance here, at
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was a Triple-A game -- the kind of game Shelby Miller surprisingly wound up pitching in eight times last season. This time, on a cloudy Wednesday in Arizona, it was not demotion to the farm but devotion to the schedule that prompted Miller's appearance here, at the Minor League complex of the rival Giants, facing a squad of unproven players. Miller took his turn on the D-backs' off-day to keep the rotation in order.
The results, then, matter even less than your average exhibition. Still, they give us a window into Miller's status. This was 4 2/3 innings in which Miller was ambushed a bit early before settling in and finding his rhythm. He gave up two runs on five hits with a walk and seven strikeouts but, more important, his four-seamer was sitting at 93-96 mph, touching 97.
Not bad for the back fields. As one scout in attendance put it, "Throw up a second deck [of seats] and better competition, and you can bump that [velocity] up even more."
Miller, 26, looks different this spring. That's what we've been hearing from scouts, from the D-backs and from Miller himself.
"Better mindset," Miller said. "Positive energy."
He'd better look different, because his 2016 season -- both in the statistics he put up and the context in which he put them up -- was jarringly bad.
It wasn't just that Miller had the second-highest ERA (6.15), WHIP (1.67) and average against (.310) of any pitcher with at least 100 innings. It was all the devils in the details. He arrived to Arizona in a trade that was universally panned. Miller's 2015 season had been reasonably impressive (3.02 ERA and 127 adjusted ERA+ in Atlanta), but even if you believed he would repeat or improve upon those numbers, it was hard to justify giving up six-plus years of Dansby Swanson (among other things) to find out.
In his third start as a D-back, Miller was so mechanically out of whack that he somehow hit his hand on the mound -- something unheard of in an overhead delivery. Additionally, there were vague and mysterious comments from chief baseball officer Tony La Russa about an off-the-field health issue working against Miller.
And yes, there was a demotion to Triple-A. The fact that it was followed not long thereafter by Swanson's arrival in Atlanta only added to the bad optics.
Former GM Dave Stewart would later admit he should not have given up Swanson to get Miller, and, well, that trade is a big reason why we now put the "former" in front of the "GM."
So here we are now with a new regime watching Miller in the stands at a Minor League tilt -- general manager Mike Hazen and skipper Torey Lovullo standing there in street clothes and watching Miller's latest progression to what they can only hope is a bounce-back year. They obviously aren't responsible for the acquisition of Miller, but they see things they like.
"I know what I read and I know what I saw last year," Lovullo said. "I would have never guessed -- from my first interaction being on the phone to my first physical interaction -- I never would have guessed he had a tough year last year. He is on a really good path, a very forward path to being successful.
"I think he's ready to do some special things this year."
That would be beneficial to the D-backs in a lot of ways. They have sleeper potential, if Miller is better, if Zack Greinke is better, if the positive changes Taijuan Walker has made bear regular-season fruit, if A.J. Pollock is healthy, etc., etc. Arizona has more "ifs" than some other teams in the National League West, but the D-backs certainly project to be better than their 69-win showing last season, perhaps much better. With the new structure comes new hope that Arizona is in a place where young players will go forward, not backward.
And if things don't work out this year and the D-backs wake up in July on the back burner, don't rule out another Miller trade, perhaps one that more positively affects this organization. The industry loves and values controllable talent (Miller has three more seasons before he's eligible for free agency), and the industry is intrigued by Miller's stuff this spring. His fastball velocity and command have both been sharp.
Miller was a mess last year, and he both admits it and forgets it.
"I guess it's just a different way of life that I'm living now," he said. "I'm just trying to have a positive outlook on everything. You can dwell on  and think about it a lot or you can move on. It depends what kind of person you are."
All the usual spring caveats apply, but Miller looks like a different kind of pitcher this year. He might be done with Triple-A.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.