Rookie Miley’s bat a bonus for D-backs

PHOENIX — When rookie left-hander Wade Miley was the
last man to make the Opening Day roster as a long reliever, the Diamondbacks
probably didn’t expect he’d become their most effective starting pitcher
through the season’s first two months and an early contender for NL Rookie of
the Year.

As much success as Miley has had on the mound, though, he has had about as much
in the batter’s box, last week setting a D-backs franchise record by extending
his hitting streak to eight games. He’ll try to stretch it to nine when he takes the mound for Wednesday night’s series finale against the Rockies.

“He has a knack for it,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “He has a
very good ability in that area. It gives you options when you have a pitcher
that can handle the bat.”

While Miley is hitting a staggering .429 (9-for-21) with nine hits, most among
pitchers in the league, his offensive numbers are not towering. He has two
runs, one RBI and one extra-base hit, a double. But during his hitting streak,
which topped Dan Haren’s previous club record, Miley has tallied three
sacrifices, three leadoff hits and reached scoring position eight times.
Moreover, he has kept innings going with two-out hits on three occasions.

“I just don’t want to give myself up as an out,” Miley said.
“Whether it’s getting a guy over to second base in scoring position for
the top of the lineup or extending an inning with two outs — you get a hit or
somehow find a way on — you get back to the top of your lineup you never know
what can happen.”

Added Gibson: “There are so many intangibles that go along with the game.
That’s why (pitchers’ hitting) is one of the things I’ve focused on.”

Miley’s determined approach at the plate comes from organizational orders.
Miley recalled playing for Double-A Mobile when Gibson took over the D-backs on
July 1, 2010. It wasn’t long before word came down that pitchers would be
expected to swing the bat effectively. Accordingly, Miley added a little
hitting to his offseason routine.

Mobile was Miley’s first stop that included batting since college, where he
only did a little hitting. Miley made gradual improvements as a hitter,
notching his best numbers last season, with a .226 average overall, including
.308 at Triple-A Reno, and six RBI.

“He was smart enough to take it to heart and put the work in when he was
in Double-A,” Gibson said. “When you talk about developing players,
that’s a good sign.”

Add what Miley’s been able to do at the plate to his success on the mound —
six wins and a 2.72 ERA, both tops among NL rookies — and it’s not crazy to
think Miley could be the D-backs’ lone representative at the All-Star Game in
July, particularly with the likes of Chris Young and Justin Upton struggling.

Nobody’s crowning Miley the next NL Silver Slugger but the fact he’s been able
to contribute offensively has been a nice complement to the reliability he’s
provided to a rotation that has struggled to stay consistent.

“When a pitcher gets a hit, it’s a bonus,” Miley said. “You’re
not expected to. I mean, I expect myself to and I’m sure the other four guys in
the rotation do. We’re not just going to go up there and take strikes.”

The other starters certainly do expect to hit as well, and they even have a
monthly competition complete with an intricate points system and dinner on the
line. The ringleader of it all, Miley says, is reigning NL Silver Slugger
Daniel Hudson.

Hudson has been impressed by Miley’s impact at the plate so far and believes
the rookie is just keeping it simple.

“He’s obviously got an idea of what he’s doing,” Hudson said. “I
think he’s kind of got the same approach I do, and I don’t really have an
approach. I just go up there thinking, ‘see the ball, hit the ball.'”

Miley confirmed the approach in nearly the same words and said it is a little
easier for pitchers than hitters because opposing pitchers typically aren’t
throwing their best stuff to fellow hurlers.

“They aren’t trying to dot up and get nasty on you,” Miley said.
“They’re just trying to throw quality strikes and I’m trying to put a bat
on the ball.”

Miley also said he watched Hudson help his own cause at the plate last season
and wanted to emulate that success. That appears to have worked so far, and
Miley hasn’t had to buy dinner for the rotation yet.