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Miller seeks return to form in return to Texas

Hard-throwing righty is healthy again following Tommy John surgery
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers pitcher Shelby Miller wasn't bashful when asked about what he is expecting from himself this season.

"Hopefully an All-Star year," said Miller, who was an All-Star for the Braves in 2015.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers pitcher Shelby Miller wasn't bashful when asked about what he is expecting from himself this season.

"Hopefully an All-Star year," said Miller, who was an All-Star for the Braves in 2015.

That was before Tommy John surgery. Miller had the operation on May 10, 2017, and pitched in just five games for the D-backs last season. He made four starts in June and July that didn't go so well and then was shut down because of elbow inflammation.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

But Miller managed to pitch one scoreless inning in relief in September and that went a long way in relieving the anxiety over his health. Miller signed a one-year contract as a free agent with the Rangers this offseason and reported with other pitchers and catchers on Tuesday exuding confidence that he is at full strength again.

A 6-foot-3 right-hander who was almost drafted by the Rangers 10 years ago, Miller is determined to get his career headed back in the right direction. The Rangers are counting on it.

"I'm really confident with what I have done this offseason," Miller said. "I'm ready to get back to getting hitters out and being over the hump. That stuff is in the past. I've cleared my head and I'm ready to go to work."

He is coming home. Miller was born in Houston and raised in Brownwood, a town of 19,000 about 160 miles southwest of Arlington. The town is famous for high school football, having won seven state championships, but they were a baseball power when Miller was on the mound. He threw six no-hitters over three seasons and was the 2009 Gatorade Texas High School Baseball Player of the Year as a senior, pitching the Lions to the regional finals for the first time in school history.

The Rangers scouted him extensively. Scouting director Kip Fagg, a national crosschecker at the time, saw Miller pitch multiple games and club president Nolan Ryan made a trip to Abilene, to watch Miller pitch in the regional semifinals.

"I didn't know he was there until afterward," Miller said. "That was probably a good thing."

Video: Shelby Miller on his rehab, joining the Rangers

The Rangers had Miller high on their list but were also sitting hard on Houston Klein left-hander Matt Purke.

"We liked them both," Fagg said. "Shelby was a big, hard-throwing Texan, but Purke had unbelievable stuff and was probably a little farther along."

The Rangers took Purke with the 14th overall pick of the Draft while Miller fell to the Cardinals with the 19th overall selection.

"It would have been pretty cool to stay in Texas," Miller said. "They came to my house a lot. They were there two or three times when I was in Brownwood, so they definitely had some interest. When I was drafted by St. Louis, I don't think they came to my house at all. It was pretty funny getting drafted by them."

The Rangers thought they had a deal worked out in advance with Purke, but that wasn't the case. He turned down their final offer and enrolled at TCU.

Miller signed with the Cardinals rather than accepting a scholarship to Texas A&M and his career got off to a strong start. He pitched well enough in a September 2012 callup that he was added to the Cardinals bullpen for the postseason. He spent the next two years in their rotation and was a combined 25-18 with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP over 62 starts and one relief appearance.

That offseason, the Cardinals traded him to the Braves along with pitcher Tyrell Jenks for outfielder Jason Heyward and pitcher Jordan Walden. Miller was an All-Star for the Braves in 2015 despite going 6-17 with a 3.02 ERA. The Braves averaged 2.6 runs of support for him. His winning percentage of .261 is the third lowest by a Major League pitcher with at least 15 decisions and an ERA of 3.25 or lower since 1969.

The following offseason, Miller was on the move again. The Braves traded him to the D-backs in a five-player deal that sent shortstop Dansby Swanson and Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder Ender Inciarte to Atlanta. It is not a trade fondly remembered in Arizona. Miller pitched in 29 games for the D-backs over three seasons, including nine in the past two. He had a 6.35 ERA during that time and the D-backs non-tendered him last November.

"Growing up in the Cardinal system, they had something called the Cardinal Way," Miller said. "As a young kid, I thought I was going to be there forever. The first trade there was an initial shock because I really wasn't expecting it, nor the trade to the D-backs either. It's just something you have to adapt to. Things are thrown at you in every single direction and you just kind of have to take it for a grain of salt and make it for what it is."

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The Rangers signed Miller to a one-year, $2 million contract with another $3 million available in incentives, expecting him to be a part of a rotation along with Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Edinson Volquez and Drew Smyly. Miller is confident it will happen based on his final inning of work for the D-backs and how he felt in the offseason.

"I'm finally going into a season healthy," Miller said. "There have been no setbacks. Getting that one inning proved to me and other people that I'm healthy … it reassured me that I was ready to go."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Shelby Miller