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Miller encouraged by first 'pen since TJ surgery

Right-hander says session went 'better than expected,' will throw another Friday
Special to MLB.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It had been almost 11 months since he'd stepped on a mound. So when Shelby Miller threw his first pitches in the D-backs' empty training facility at Salt River Fields Tuesday, it might as well have been Opening Day.

"There was some emotion at first," Miller explained. "I almost teared up a little bit when I did it, because we had an off-day and I came in here and my family was here. They're out here right now, so they got to see me throw. It was a special day, and a big step in the right direction."

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It had been almost 11 months since he'd stepped on a mound. So when Shelby Miller threw his first pitches in the D-backs' empty training facility at Salt River Fields Tuesday, it might as well have been Opening Day.

"There was some emotion at first," Miller explained. "I almost teared up a little bit when I did it, because we had an off-day and I came in here and my family was here. They're out here right now, so they got to see me throw. It was a special day, and a big step in the right direction."

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Miller last pitched on April 23, 2017. Heading into that game, he was 2-1 with a 3.50 ERA in three starts, having just pitched 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Padres. In his fourth start of the season, however, Miller left after facing three batters in the fifth inning and feeling tightness on the inside of his right forearm. A precautionary MRI revealed a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, and Miller underwent Tommy John surgery on May 11.

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In his first bullpen session since the surgery, Miller said throwing off the mound went better than he expected.

"Getting back on the mound for the first time in a while, I probably threw 15 pitches and all of them were pretty quality," Miller said. "I didn't really miss much. I thought I'd miss more. I felt great, but I thought I'd maybe be a little shaky with my command, but the command was right there, kind of like right where I left off. It was kind of nice to see that and good to just get back on the mound and get that box checked."

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The long-term goal has been to get Miller healthy and ready to pitch in the big leagues by June or July, and he'll continue on a steady progression through Spring Training and beyond as the team starts the season without him.

"I throw another 'pen Friday, and then I'll just be doing little drills that we're doing now and trying to build momentum going into the season," Miller said. "Each [bullpen session is] going to get more and more detailed. I'll start throwing curveballs and stuff in the fourth and fifth one. It's all about continuing to get through it and build upon the process and see what happens."

The 27-year-old right-hander has a 37-49 career record with a 3.67 ERA in three seasons with the Cardinals, one with the Braves and two with the D-backs. He made 33 starts for Atlanta in 2015, posting a 3.02 ERA in a career-high 205 1/3 innings.

One of the best signs from his session was the fact that Miller didn't face any setbacks the day after pitching.

"I'm not that sore or anything," he said. "I was probably throwing like 70 percent, 75 percent. My arm felt good the whole time. So, knock on wood with that. Just continue to do the things I need to do in the weight room and in the training room, and these guys will be taking care of me."

The day was momentous enough in Miller's journey back to a big league mound that he brought his whole family -- his parents and his sisters -- to the vacated training facility on the D-backs' off-day to be there when he took his biggest step toward getting back in uniform.

"Right now, I feel like I'm in a really good spot," Miller said. "It's been a long time, and so many people have encouraged me to where I've gotten today."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com based in Denver.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Shelby Miller