PHOENIX — In a stellar 2012 season that saw him win 16 games and finish second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley made command his calling card. He gave up 1.7 walks per nine innings, or roughly one every five innings pitched.
But so far this year, Miley’s command has betrayed him, as the lefty is giving up more than twice as many walks and has already tallied more than half his 2012 total (37) through just eight starts.
“You don’t want to walk people, period,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “It’s uncharacteristic of him, but it is what it is. We’ll have to try to work with him before his next start and clean it up.”
Though he issued a modest two walks in a 10-1 loss to the Braves on Monday, it was evident Miley was struggling to put pitches where he wanted. He’s now giving up 3.6 walks per nine innings, roughly one every 2 1/2 innings pitched.
Miley’s outing Monday was a troubling follow-up to what was his best start of the season last week. In that outing against the Dodgers, Miley gave up two runs in 7 2/3 innings without issuing a walk. Over the two previous starts, he’d given up 10 walks, including seven in a 4 1/3 inning outing April 27.
On Monday Miley lasted five innings and gave up seven runs (six earned) on six hits. He’s only given up more runs once in his brief career, surrendering eight in a start last June.
“Early in the game I was hitting spots, pitching down in the zone, and then just like that I just didn’t get it down anymore,” Miley said. “I left pitches up and they capitalized. “It was just bad location. I was leaving balls up, and that’s on me.”
Through four innings Monday, Miley cruised, giving up just two hits. Things turned quickly in the fifth when an error by D-backs third baseman Martin Prado, Miley’s first walk and a wild pitch set up a three-run inning, with two of those runs coming on a Chris Johnson home run.
The sixth inning was even worse. Miley hit the first batter he faced, center fielder B.J. Upton, before the man of the hour, right fielder and former D-backs star Justin Upton crushed a ball 440 feet to right center field to give the Braves a 5-1 lead which would grow by two more runs in the inning.
“The home run (Upton) hit was just a changeup out over the middle of the plate,” Gibson said. “That’s certainly not where you want to put that pitch.”
D-backs catcher Wil Nieves said Miley seemed to start trying to aim his pitches too much, leading to mistakes the Braves did not miss.
Miley said he doesn’t feeling like he’s searching for his command but acknowledged the walks have dogged him more than anything else this season.
“I feel the same as I did last year, just not executing pitches I executed last year,” Miley said. “Any time you walk a guy…I mean, I think both guys I walked tonight there was a home run right after. That’s an extra run. That hurts.”
One of those was actually the hit batter, but that pitch was way up and in — certainly not where Miley wanted it.
Miley has made a point of putting last year behind him, focusing on this season alone. But if he’s to come close to a repeat campaign, he’ll need the consistent command that carried him as a rookie.
“I haven’t been throwing well this season, period,” Miley said. “I’ve just got to work on some things and get back after it.”