Andrew Miller's first start went well enough, and he got his second try back in the majors yesterday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bucs had won the first two games in the series, so, for sanity's sake, we all wanted to see a win out of Miller more than usual, but he was able to deliver.
Miller succeeded differently than in his first start. He walked a pair of hitters through six innings, but struck out just four, and saw fewer groundouts (14 percent, against 23 percent in his first start). He gave up just a pair of runs (one earned) and used his fastball for more than just a setup pitch for his slider and change. The nine flyouts were a drastic change from his first start, but PNC is also a park where -- Saturday's homerfest notwithstanding -- you can get away with that sort of thing on a regular basis. That isn't to say we want to keep seeing that, as Miller will be successful as long as he can keep it on the ground, but if he's going to have the odd start where the ball goes airborne, he picked a fine place to do it.
Through his first two starts, Miller is averaging nearly 93 mph on his fastball, a pitch he is throwing 62 percent of the time. His slurvy slider comes in next at 20 percent, and this has been his best swing-and-miss pitch thus far, with whiffs induced over 17 percent of the time (13 percent is the average). His third pitch, the changeup, has been below-average in terms of whiffs, but both that and the fastball are finding the strike zone for called strikes well above the league average. It's tough to argue with one weapon and two other pitches to help set it up.
We haven't seen the wild and inefficient Miller from the past in his first two starts, as he has used 179 pitches to get through his 11-2/3 innings. He probably could have gone into the seventh in either outing from a general pitch count perspective, making one wonder why he was taken out when he was. It's possible the pre-game simulated inning keeps him from going as deep into games as he normally could for his pitch count, but remember, six frames and 90 pitches of quality pitching trumps four-to-five innings of inefficient, unproductive pitching, so if this change in approach is responsible for his recent success, he should keep at it.
Plus, we're used to a fifth starter that averaged under six innings per start and drove us all insane every other appearance, so six innings from Miller is kind of excellent. Expect more of these updates throughout the season as we approach the trade deadline, as Miller has a change to have more of an impact than anyone Boston can bring on board July 31.