PHOENIX -- Shelby Miller didn’t claim to be in the best shape of his life, but he sure is in better shape than last season.
With a remade physique, age still on his side (Miller just turned 29 in October) and a non-roster invitation to the Brewers’ big league camp, Miller is intent on resurrecting a once promising career that included a third-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year balloting when he was with the Cardinals in 2013, and an All-Star Game berth when he was with the Braves in 2015. Miller has fallen on hard times since then, going 6-21 with a 6.89 ERA in 183 innings for the D-backs and Rangers over the past four seasons, and undergoing Tommy John surgery along the way.
Last year, he was released by Texas and hooked on with the Brewers, who sent Miller to their pitching lab at American Family Fields of Phoenix and offered some ideas about his repertoire based on the data they collected.
When the offseason arrived, Miller embarked on another project.
“I don’t know if you saw me last year, but I was around 250 pounds,” said Miller, who later revised the figure upward to 255 pounds. “Pretty heavy. I didn’t feel that athletic and just wasn’t really myself. I think the injuries may have set me back a little bit with the way I trained and all that. So I kind of got back on track with just doing the things I did back in the day in the weight room and just really busted it to get back in shape and get to where I needed to be to stay healthy and have a long, healthy season.”
He reported to Brewers camp at 225 pounds, more like his fighting weight from years past.
“Probably a little bit of nutrition,” Miller said. “But I think more than anything, I was hurt, wasn’t really pushing myself, maybe tapping the brakes a little bit and trying to stay healthy and stay more in the training room than in the gym and maybe got a little lazy, honestly. But that’s not the case this year. I came back ready to go. … I think I’m very, very close.”
Miller said he had a Minor League offer from Baltimore, where he may have had a clearer path to the big leagues, but he turned it down to re-sign with the Brewers, who are encouraging him to get back to the sinker and cutter that made Miller a top prospect with the Cardinals in the early 2010s.
Making it back to the Majors won’t be easy. The Brewers have Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson and Josh Lindblom ticketed for the Opening Day rotation, with Eric Lauer firmly in that mix. Young pitchers Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta are part of the wave after that. Brent Suter will also “stretch out” early in camp before the Brewers decide whether he’s needed in the rotation or in a multi-inning relief role.
Then come other rotation candidates like Miller.
“Shelby Miller has achieved some pretty special things in the big leagues … and his arm, from what we’ve seen, is still capable of doing that,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “How long it takes to get him there, I don’t have the answer to that and that’s what we talked about when I talked to Shelby earlier. ‘Let’s just give this some time. It doesn’t have to happen overnight. We know what you’re capable of.’ He’s put himself physically in the best position for this to happen again, so we’ll just see how it goes.”
• Corey Knebel is the only Brewers pitcher or catcher who is limited physically at the start of camp, Counsell said. That was expected; Knebel underwent Tommy John surgery in April, and the comeback takes 12-14 months.
• Fans planning to attend the Brewers’ early camp workouts can sleep in a bit. Until position players formally join next week, the team won’t take the field to stretch until noon, part of an effort to keep players well-rested and to spend the morning on targeted individual work.
• The name Miller Park is going away after 2020, but Miller beer is not. The Brewers on Thursday announced a multi-year extension with the Molson Coors Beverage Company that will keep the company as the official beer partner of the club. Also announced was the addition of two new seating areas: the Miller Lite Landing and Leinie Lodge. More information is at Brewers.com/tickets.