D-backs send Miller to Reno in search for answers

PHOENIX — The search for answers to Shelby Miller’s season-long pitching struggles will shift from Phoenix to Reno.

D-backs general manager Dave Stewart announced Thursday that Miller has been optioned to the Triple-A Reno Aces.

Miller, acquired for outfielder Ender Inciarte, pitcher Aaron Blair and the organization’s top prospect, shortstop Dansby Swanson, to be the No. 2 starter in the rotation, has struggled from the start of the season, compiling a 2-9 record with a 7.14 earned run average in 14 starts.

Miller said he was not surprised by the decision.

"I’ve been struggling up here for a while," he said in the Arizona clubhouse Thursday. "I’m surprised I stayed up here this long."

The D-backs hoped that Miller had gotten back on track after a stint on the disabled list with a sprained finger. He got a victory over Philadelphia in his first start upon returning, limiting the Phillies to five hits and one run in 6 2/3 innings, but he’s made three consecutive poor starts since then. In his last 17 innings, he’s given up 26 hits and 18 earned runs.

For the season, Miller has been roughed up for 87 hits, 34 walks, 13 home runs and 55 earned runs in 69 1/3 innings.

"We just have to find a way to get him back to pitching the way he can," manager Chip Hale said.

Miller’s most recent start against San Diego was typical of his season.

After blanking the Padres for three innings, he gave up five runs in the fourth when Arizona had a 4-0 lead.

"His stuff was good at times, good enough to win here," Hale said. "He just couldn’t put it together, so he’ll go down there, work on it and pitch his way back to the big leagues.

"I told him we’re not going to be the team that we envisioned without him being who Shelby Miller can be. That was my message."

In three previous seasons as a major league starter, he had never posted an ERA higher than 3.74. Last season with Atlanta, he had a 3.02 earned run average but was victimized by poor run support in compiling a 6-17 record.

Miller said he pored over videos of his pitching during the break and said he saw some differences between this year and last.

"The biggest thing is to get back to maybe a little bit simpler and not so much forcing things and trying to make a perfect pitch," he said. "I think that’s when mechanics come easier and everything kind of flows and feels free. Hopefully I can get to that point and get back up here."

Hale said Miller’s mechanics seem the same as they were last season.

"The mental side of it is just really hard to deal with," Hale said. "When you don’t have success, it festers and it gets worse."

Hale called it "a disappointing move for us to make as coaches."

"We feel like we’re here to make them better, make them better ballplayers and pitchers," he said, "and we’ve dropped the ball with him."

Miller said he had no idea how long he’d be gone.

"It could be the rest of the year, it could be a couple of weeks, who knows," he said.

Hale said Miller would have to earn his way back, like any other player.

"It’s a performance-based game," Hale said.

With Zack Greinke and Rubby De La Rosa on the 15-day disabled list, the D-backs have only three starting pitchers on the 25-man roster coming out of the All-Star break: Patrick Corbin, Archie Bradley and Robbie Ray. The team will call up left-hander Edwin Escobar prior to Friday night’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he’s not a candidate to join the rotation. 

Hale said Zack Godley will come up from Triple-A Reno to join the rotation for Tuesday’s game vs. Toronto.

The D-backs have off-days on Monday and Thursday of next week, so they can get by with a short rotation until starting a 10-day, 10-game road trip on July 22.