Mighty Miller untouchable over seven no-hit innings

May 3rd, 2023

OAKLAND -- 's third Major League start was not nearly as electric as his first two. It was, however, his most dominant.

In what emerged as an impressive pitchers' duel opposite Mariners rookie right-hander Bryce Miller, it was Mason who outshined Bryce in a battle of the Millers by firing seven no-hit innings in the A’s 2-1 loss at the Coliseum on Tuesday.

Though Miller, Oakland’s No. 3 prospect, matched a career-high six strikeouts, he also threw a career-high 100 pitches in the process. A rare rainy day in May in the Bay Area may have caused some atypical struggles with command, which has been regarded as a strong suit throughout his professional career, as the 24-year-old only threw 54 strikes and issued four walks after walking two batters through his first two career outings.

“I didn’t feel like I had my best stuff,” Miller said. “Honestly, I’ve gotten away from what I was doing really well in the Minor Leagues, which is filling it up. I found myself looking up and seeing a 50-50 split on balls and strikes. But it’s encouraging to still get guys out without my best stuff.”

If Miller is capable of producing this type of performance on a “bad” day, the potential on a day where he feels at his best might be terrifying for the rest of the league. His fastball, while still plenty powerful with an average velocity of 97.1 mph, was down roughly two mph from his season average.

“He’s got good stuff,” said Mariners designated hitter AJ Pollock, who broke up Oakland’s combined no-hit bid in the eighth with a one-out solo homer off Richard Lovelady. “You watch [Miller] on video and his fastball is obviously electric, and he was really mixing in that offspeed, especially late.”

In some ways, Tuesday’s flirtation with history was really a continuation of Miller’s previous outing. His start against the Angels last week might have seemed subpar on the surface, as he allowed four runs in four innings. But all four of those runs came in a 39-pitch first. After that rough opening frame, Miller adjusted his plan of attack by throwing more to the inner part of the zone and getting inside on hitters. The result: nine of his final 10 batters retired.

Displaying a noticeable amount of growth over a young Major League career, Miller mixed in his pitches a lot more frequently against Seattle. In addition to 46 fastballs, Miller threw 26 sliders and 23 cutters. Between the slider and cutter, he generated a combined 18 swings and nine whiffs.

“I think that’s going to be a real weapon for me,” Miller said of his cutter. “A pitch I’m able to get in there, maybe, if my slider is not on that day. Just something to miss the barrel a little bit.”

With Miller’s seventh inning arguably his best, as he struck out Eugenio Suárez and Teoscar Hernández on sliders, it became decision time for A’s manager Mark Kotsay, though it was a relatively easy call. For one, Miller, whose Minor League experience consists of 28 2/3 innings, had never exceeded 86 pitches or five innings in a game over his professional career, Majors or Minors. The flamethrowing righty also carries an injury history, including a scapula strain that sidelined him for most of the 2022 campaign.

“I’ve watched that situation a lot with guys going into the seventh or eighth and managers have to make a decision on whether they’re going to risk health or go after a no-hitter,” Kotsay said. “Mason completely understood his situation. It’s difficult. You want to be able to accomplish something that’s rare. At the same time, you have to balance what’s best for our future.”

That future is the ceiling of a bona fide frontline starter with ace potential. That much was evident in Mason’s coming-out party on Tuesday, becoming the first A’s pitcher to throw at least seven hitless innings with six or more strikeouts since Mike Fiers’ no-hitter on May 7, 2019.

Perhaps down the line, another crack at history will arise. For now, despite the A’s becoming just the fifth team since integration (1947) to lose 24 of their first 30 games, Miller got the satisfaction of walking off the mound after the seventh and seeing a zero in Seattle’s hit column.

“It was a great feeling,” Miller said. “There’s no other way to put it. The four walks, I was thinking about that a lot, especially because they came early in the game. That’s not really my thing. I pride myself on not beating myself. But to go seven with no hits, it was pretty awesome.”