In Giants debut, Miller delivers clutch relief outing

September 24th, 2022

PHOENIX -- Nearly a full year had passed since had taken a big league mound. It had been even longer (1,541 days, to be exact) since the right-hander had stepped on this particular hill -- the one at Chase Field, the site of some of his toughest moments in the Majors.

It’s those struggles that have had Miller out to show he can still pitch at this level. And on Friday night, the 31-year-old took an encouraging step toward proving that.

Making his Giants debut, Miller struck out seven of the 12 batters he faced over 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, serving an instrumental role in San Francisco’s 6-5 win over Arizona. It was Miller’s first MLB appearance since Oct. 2, 2021, and he became the 64th player used by the Giants this season, tying the franchise record set in '19.

“It was definitely nice not only to be back in the big leagues, but to be back in Arizona, where I played for a while,” Miller said. “This is home, where I live, so it’s nice to be back, for sure.”

If Miller continues to pitch like this, then maybe the big leagues can stay his professional home moving forward.

“I’ve seen Shelby in the past at the Major League level have success, and it was nice to see him come through like that,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He’s been waiting a long time for this opportunity. He came into the game and just did exactly what we were looking for -- he delivered a ton of strikes, worked fast, forced the action.”

However, it was mostly early in Miller’s 10-year big league career that he experienced that success. He had a 3.33 ERA in 69 games (63 starts) over his first three seasons with the Cardinals from 2012-14. Then, he was an All-Star with the Braves in '15, when he posted a 3.02 ERA in 33 starts.

After getting traded to the D-backs in December 2015, Miller rarely showed that form again. He pitched to a 6.35 ERA in 29 games (28 starts) for Arizona from 2016-18, a stint that ended with an injury-plagued '18 campaign in which he dealt with elbow trouble.

Miller has bounced around teams in recent years, aiming to get back on track. He had an 8.59 ERA in 19 games for the Rangers in '19, and a 9.24 ERA over 13 appearances in '21, which he split between the Cubs and Pirates.

This March, Miller signed with the Yankees. And although he didn’t make it to the Majors, he pitched well enough for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (a 1.71 ERA in 16 relief outings) that after he got released on May 31, the Giants inked him to a deal on June 8.

Miller continued to pitch well for Triple-A Sacramento, recording a 3.62 ERA in 27 games (one start), and he could tell that his work with the pitching coaches in San Francisco’s organization was paying off.

“Basically going over how you can use your stuff to the best of its ability or however you can make yourself better, that’s what they’ve done since I’ve gotten here,” Miller said. “I’ve been throwing well in Triple-A, and then was throwing well tonight. So I would say they’re doing something right here, for sure.”

The Giants didn’t exactly ease Miller back into big league action with a low-leverage spot. Instead, they called on him to start the sixth inning with Friday’s game tied at 5.

Even though Miller gave up four hits, he found ways out of trouble. After giving up a one-out single to Geraldo Perdomo in the sixth, he struck out both Ketel Marte and Daulton Varsho. With runners on first and second in the seventh, Miller froze Sergio Alcántara on a 95.8 mph fastball to end the inning.

Marte hit a two-out double in the eighth to end Miller’s night. But left-hander Alex Young came in and got Varsho to fly out on one pitch -- with right fielder LaMonte Wade Jr. making a tremendous leaping catch on the play -- to preserve Miller’s sterling line.

“That’s a big, big ask for him to come in and do that,” Giants starter Carlos Rodón said of Miller’s performance. “He has the pedigree, he’s been really good in the past. It’s nice to see him be successful, especially today.”

Kapler is planning to use Miller as a “Swiss Army knife” out of the bullpen who can pitch between one and three innings at any time over the final two weeks of the season. Although it could be viewed as an audition for Miller to show he should be in a Major League bullpen in 2023, he’s not taking that approach.

“However I can contribute to this team and however I can help, obviously I’ll be here,” Miller said. “I don’t know if it’s going to benefit, or whatever the case may be, for next year, but I’ll do the best I can, and we’ll see what happens.”