So much has happened in the 17 months since Shelby Miller joined the Arizona Diamondbacks:
Dec. 9, 2015 – Arizona Diamondbacks trade former top pick Dansby Swanson, outfielder Ender Enciarte and Aaron Blair, one of the organization’s top prospects, for Shelby Miller.
April 5, 2016 – Miller’s first start that results in six innings pitched, six earned runs and three home runs allowed in an 11-6 loss to the Colorado Rockies.
April 16, 2016 – Miller leaves his start in San Diego with a hand injury after throwing an inning and two-thirds. He scraped his hand on the mound and suffered cuts on his knuckles.
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May 25, 2016 – Miller goes on the 15-day disabled list for a right index finger injury.
June 20, 2016 – Miller returns to the rotation and throws an encouraging six and two-thirds innings and gives up just one earned run. That is followed by three straight starts in which Miller gives up at least five earned runs.
July 14, 2016 – Miller is optioned to Triple-A Reno. At that time, he sported a 7.14 ERA. Miller candidly responds to the news with “I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”
Aug. 31, 2016 – Miller returns to the rotation and finishes the season with a 3-11 record and a 6.15 ERA.
The Diamondbacks hoped their pitching staff would come out guns blazing in 2016, but they saw backfire after backfire with Miller being the one caught in the crosshairs most frequently.
The silver lining to his season? His last two starts, he threw 11 innings and gave up zero runs. By that time, though, the Diamondbacks were far from the playoff picture.
But the D-Back faithful were hopeful that those last two starts was the start of a turnaround for Miller. Last year left him with numbers far from the “Ace 1B” role he was supposed to assume with Zack Greinke when he was traded. One of the biggest questions heading into the 2017 season was which pitcher would be on the mound when Shelby Miller toed the rubber Friday night.
“He really locked things down.”
After two innings against the Cleveland Indians, it seemed like it could be more of the same from 2016. Miller gave up a booming solo shot to Francisco Lindor in the first inning and a double from Edwin Encarnacion, but he was able to get out of the inning with minimal damage.
After walking the first two batters in the second and giving up a single to Tyler Naquin, Miller was this close to getting out of the inning, but Carlos Santana was able to beat the shift and knock one through that scored two to give the Indians a 3-0 lead.
From there, Miller retired 10 straight. He looked more like the guy the D-Backs were hoping for – a veteran starter with a career 3.66 ERA, 7.4 K/9 who has the capacity for double-digit wins year in and year out.
“He really locked things down,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “Those moments are going to happen, and he rebounded very well, started to make some pitches. Even his misses were really close today.”
When it was all said and done, Miller went 5.1 innings pitched while giving up three earned runs, striking out seven and earning the win after the D-Backs beat the Indians 7-3.
“It was very uplifting to Shelby to get off to a good start,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “Given what happened last year, I know that he’s very focused and energized for a positive year this year, and I think he deserves a lot of credit for working hard behind the scenes to make those moments happen. “
What helped Miller navigate his way through the Indians lineup? His curveball and an elevated velocity that would touch 96 mph on his fastball.
“Throwing my curveball over for strikes early was huge,” Miller said. I was really showing that early and I think it got them off my fastball a little bit.”
Friday could be the start of a bounce-back season for Miller and the Diamondbacks as a whole. Miller said having the Diamondbacks’ ability to come storming back after falling behind, something that has happened in all five games this year, helped him remember he just has to go out and “throw zeroes.”
“I didn’t pitch good at home at all. We didn’t win, either, at home last year,” Miller said. “For the fans and us as a team to grind it out and play this good early is so fun…this win’s huge. It means a lot to me.”