When Miley takes the mound, quality usually follows
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — True to his nature, Diamondbacks left-hander Wade Miley is not particularly captivated by the numbers that seem to follow baseball players like obedient pets — especially his own.
"I’m not a big stats guys. I’m not a big ERA guy. I just want to win," Miley said after going four innings in his first spring training start Sunday against the Giants.
There is one number that has defined Miley’s almost-two seasons in the Diamondbacks’ rotation, however, and it is the only one other that victories that he holds close. He is one of 14 NL pitchers with at least 40 quality starts the two seasons, a list that includes Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, three of the most productive lefties in the game.
"My mentality going into every start is I want to go nine and give up zero," Miley said. "But yeah, if you can go out and have a quality start every time out, the club is going to have a chance to win that game. That’s huge."
Some debate the value of a quality start — a game in which a starter pitches six or more innings and gives up three or fewer earned runs — but at worst, the stat indicates a pitcher who can get deep into games, directly to Miley’s point. No one understands it more than relief pitchers.
"If he is getting at least six innings a start, he is not killing the bullpen," reliever Brad Ziegler said. "As a reliever, that is something we like to see. Even if he has given up a few runs, he’s able to battle it out and keep us in the game."
If you can go out and have a quality start every time out, the club is going to have a chance to win that game. That’s huge.
After giving up seven earned runs in consecutive starts against the Padres and Cubs at the end of May last season, Miley became one of the most consistent pitchers in the NL. He made quality starts in 16 of his last 22 appearances, going 7-5 with a 2.87 ERA to finish 10-10 with a 3.55 ERA. He was one-third of an inning short of another quality start, and in one of his non-quality starts, he gave up four runs in seven innings.
Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson defines "quality" slightly differently, and he probably would include Miley’s 7-2 loss to the Cubs on May 31, the game that began Miley’s turnaround. After giving up seven runs in the first three innings, Miley finished with four shutout innings, valuable inasmuch as the D-backs needed 5 1/3 innings out of four relievers the day before in Texas.
"What’s a quality start?"Gibson said. "If you give up five runs and have to go eight innings because your bullpen is tired, I call that a quality start. I prefer more than six. I’m into quality starts, but I define it a little differently, specific to the situation and the needs of your club."
Since joining the Diamondbacks’ rotation in late April 2012, Miley has more quality starts than the Braves’ Mike Minor and one fewer than Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and new teammate Bronson Arroyo.
Miley finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2012 and made his first All-Star team after going 16-11 with a 3.33 ERA, and he returned to form after that May 31 start last season by doing what he does best: challenging hitters with his four-pitch mix.
"He stopped nibbling. He started out like he wanted to be so perfect on every pitch, and that was his problem," catcher Miguel Montero said. "He is not the guy who tries to be perfect. He’s the guy who throws it and sees how far you can hit it. He just attacks the strike zone, and last year he was trying to be too fine. They got a couple of hits, and it got even worse."
Added Gibson: "He kind of overthought it a little bit and lost who Wade was. Wade’s a guy who gets on the mound, gets the ball, trusts his catcher and throws the ball. Like everything about this level, it gets pretty specialized, and there can be too much information. I think last year Wade kind of got caught up in things that weren’t applicable to him. It kind of slowed him down a little bit. He got back on track and finished really well."
Miley is taking that approach into 2014.
"One of two things are going to happen: I’m going to have success or I’m not going to have success. That’s my mentality," Miley said. "Whatever I throw, my mentality is to let it rip. That’s how I go out. Let it fly. See what happens."
Miley was generally pleased with his first spring outing, giving up one run on five hits and a walk Sunday. He gave up a run in the first inning but got new Giants left fielder Mike Morse on a fielder’s choice with runners on first and second to end the inning, and he stranded a runner on second base with two outs in the second.
"Just trying to knock the rust off," Miley said. "It was a little nerve-wracking to get out there, but it is always good to get the first one under your belt. There is always a question mark about how it is going to go. The ball came out good."