Four-run first inning spoils Miller's outing
Right-hander fans 10, but two-out hits loom large in loss
ATLANTA -- As Braves right-hander Shelby Miller has positioned himself to at least be considered as the National League's starting pitcher at this year's All-Star Game, he has relied heavily on a two-seam fastball that expanded his repertoire late last season and allowed him to begin using his curveball less frequently.
Thus, it was easy to understand why much of the frustration Miller expressed after allowing four first-inning runs in Tuesday night's 6-1 loss to the Nationals was aimed toward his choice to throw a curveball to Clint Robinson, who belted the breaking pitch over the right-field wall for a two-run homer that highlighted the unexpected opening frame.
"If I could take it back, I wouldn't have thrown Robinson a curveball," Miller said. "I think I did him a huge favor by hanging a curveball inside. I think I should have stuck with something else I've been throwing better than that. At the end of the day, it's a pitch I decided to throw. I just left it up and it wasn't a good pitch at all."
Robinson's two-run home run accounted for just one of the eight hits Miller surrendered while allowing five runs -- four earned -- over five innings. The Braves' ace surrendered just one unearned run after allowing four of the first six batters he faced to record hits. But the first-inning damage proved to be far too significant to overcome for the Braves, who have lost nine straight games to the first-place Nationals and fallen seven games back in the National League East race.
"It just wasn't a normal Shelby Miller outing," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's allowed to have that every once in a while given how good he has been."
Miller entered this outing with a 1.94 ERA through this season's first 15 starts and a 0.85 ERA over five career starts against the Nationals. He had surrendered just three first-inning hits this season and those were compiled over the span of just two games.
But it did not take long to prove this was a night when the numbers would indeed lie. Denard Span opened the game with a single and scored when Danny Espinosa followed with a double. Two outs later, Wilson Ramos scored Espinosa with a single. Given that Span, Espinosa and Ramos all recorded their first-inning hits on fastballs, it is understandable why Miller opted to show something different to Robinson, who had fouled two straight fastballs just before concluding his eight-pitch at-bat by hitting the 3-2 curveball over the outfield wall.
"I'm upset that we lost and stuff," Miller said. "Yeah, those innings are going to happen. At the end of the day, if you're making pitches and they're getting hits, it happens. You tip your hat to that offense. It's obviously a tough offense to get through. It's not going to be seven innings, zero runs every single time against guys like that."