General : : Professional
Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cardinals Being Careful with Shelby Miller

Jim Ecker        

Shelby Miller isn’t perfect. His pickoff move needs work, for instance, but there’s a good reason for that. Not too many high school batters reached base against him last year in Texas.


“I pretty much just blew it by everybody,” he said. “It’s a different world here and a lot better competition.”


Miller, 19, is pitching for the Quad Cities River Bandits this season in the Class A Midwest League. He’s still blowing his 96 mph fastball by a lot of batters with 49 strikeouts in just 34 innings, but the results aren’t quite the same.


He had a 1-3 record and 3.97 ERA after he got saddled with the loss against the Cedar Rapids Kernels Wednesday night, but his won-loss record is a little misleading. He’s on a strict pitch-count, to protect his valuable right arm, and he’s been pulled from five games before he was the pitcher of record.


“I had two wins that I should have had, but I got shot down short,” he said.


Miller is not complaining. He got a $2.9 million signing bonus from the St. Louis Cardinals as the 19th pick in the 2009 draft, and the Cardinals aren’t going to worry about his won-loss record in the low minors. They’ll worry about that when he gets to St. Louis, perhaps in a few years.


Miller threw 75 pitches Wednesday and left after the fifth inning, having reached his pitch count. The Bandits trailed at the time, 2-1, but one of those runs was unearned.


“They don’t want me to throw too many pitches,” he said. “That lowers me in innings, but it’s the safest way to go right now.”


Miller, a 6-foot-3 right-hander, threw a steady stream of 95 and 96 mph fastballs against the Kernels. Cedar Rapids center fielder Mike Trout, a first-round pick in 2009 who was hitting .376 when the game began, went 0-for-3 against Miller with two strikeouts and a weak grounder. One of Miller’s fastballs touched 97 against Trout.


“A smooth 97,”  Trout said. “It gets on you quick. He’s good. A good pitcher.”


Miller, from Brownwood, Texas, made a few appearances for Quad Cities last season when he was just 18. He thinks he might be promoted later this season, but isn’t sure.


“There’s no telling when, or where,” he remarked. “It really depends on how good I’m doing. I’m such a young pitcher and there are still a lot of things I need to pick up on. I’m learning how to pitch every day.”


He said his goal this season is to stay healthy, work on his off-speed pitches and work on his control. He’s walked only 12 batters in 34 innings, but wants to stay lower in the strike zone.


He thinks he’ll be allowed to throw 85 to 90 pitches in a few weeks and is looking forward to that. “I should start going deeper into games,” he said. “My arm feels great.”


Miller said he threw only 11 off-speed pitches against the Kernels on Wednesday. Everything else was a fastball.


“That’s one thing I’ll have to work with a lot more as I move up, is developing my changeup better and my curveball,” he said. “But other than that, I feel my fastball is where it needs to be and I’m just trying to stay healthy and keep going.”


Miller sticks with a fastball, curve and changeup. He doesn’t throw a slider, but might add it later. He said the Cardinals want him to focus on just one breaking ball, and he prefers the curve.


“If I try to start throwing a slider or something different than a curveball, they say it’s going to take away from my curveball,” he said. “I can see myself developing something else down the road, but right now I’m just a curveball-changeup guy.”


Curveball, changeup and fastball, that is. “I’ve hit 96 at least once every game,” he said.


Miller pitched a few innings for the St. Louis Cardinals in spring training games this year and held his own against big-league hitters.


“It was a lot of fun. It was a rush,” he said. “I thought I did well, and being up with the big-league guys was a lot of fun. I learned a lot of things and I really, really enjoyed my time when I was up there.”


He might join them on a regular basis in a few years, but isn’t obsessed with that. He just likes playing pro ball.


“I’m enjoying it. It’s baseball every day,”  he said. “It really never gets old. The only time it gets long is between starts. You’re just ready for your next start to come up. That’s the only down side of it.”
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