No hard feelings from Miller after mystifying inactivity during Cardinals’ October
ST. LOUIS — Three months later, right-hander Shelby Miller still hasn’t found out why he became the forgotten pitcher in the Cardinals’ October.
No one has told him why, after winning 15 games, he didn’t re-enter the rotation after the Pittsburgh series. No one has told him why he pitched only once for all of one inning in the Cardinals’ 17 postseason games. No one has told him why he was summoned to warm up in the eighth inning of Game 6 when the Red Sox were up 6-1.
And yes, Miller was bothered as well as mystified by the lack of use.
Miller insists his shoulder was sound, pointing out that he threw long toss throughout the month. He believes his workload during the regular season — 173 1/3 innings were by far more than he’d thrown in a season — might have been a reason, but no one told him as much.
But Miller never sought an answer, nor does he plan to.
Something I want to do a lot better is go deeper into ballgames. The deeper you go, the better chance you have to win, the better it is for the bullpen.
-- Shelby Miller
Perhaps his lack of use shouldn’t have been a mystery. Miller didn’t start in the first round because the Pirates roughed him up the last two times he faced them in the regular season. He didn’t return to the rotation for the NLCS because the Cardinals saw no reason to remove another starter from the rotation. He didn’t pitch out of the bullpen in either of the first two rounds because the Cardinals didn’t have much of a need for a long man.
Finally, his non-use in the first two rounds caught up to him in the World Series. To then turn to a rookie at the end of a long season, who had pitched one inning in almost a month, would not have made sense. Especially not when that rookie pitched the entire season as a 22-year-old.
What about warming up for mop-up duty at the end of the World Series? Manager Mike Matheny said shortly after the end of last season that he wanted to give Miller a chance to pitch in the World Series and would have "if things had gotten out of hand" in the eighth inning.
Miller can buy such an explanation. "Obviously, you don’t want (Trevor) Rosenthal throwing a lot of pitches in a game we’re getting beat pretty bad," he said.
Most important, for Miller and the Cardinals, Miller made it clear that he has moved on from October. He has spent the off-season working out just as hard as last off-season except, perhaps, for the time he took off for his wedding (which Matheny attended, by the way) and getting accustomed to married life.
In November and December, Miller heard the same rumors as everyone else and said, "I’m happy I wasn’t a part of any trade, I can tell you that." He believes he remains in the club’s good graces. "If you’re asking me if I’ve lost my role as a starter, I don’t think so," he said. He is preparing to pitch 200 innings in 2014 and he even mentioned a 20-win season.
To have a shot at either mark, he knows what he needs to do.
"There were games where I was throwing a weird amount of pitches," Miller said. "In two or three innings, I’d be like at 60 pitches. That ruins your ballgame for you to go deep and log some innings. Something I want to do a lot better is go deeper into ballgames. The deeper you go, the better chance you have to win, the better it is for the bullpen."
A cutter he started throwing toward the end of 2013 figures to help in the pitch-efficiency department. The time he’s spent in the weight room this off-season should improve his durability, too. Miller says he has remained at 225 pounds but, unlike last season when he added weight but not necessarily strength, he said, ‘I’ve put on more muscle. Weight-room wise, I’m a lot stronger."
So strong, in fact, that Adam Wainwright called him the strongest on the team after Matt Holliday — who, Wainwright said, "is a freak and doesn’t count."
"Holliday is a big dude," added Miller. "He makes the weights scared of him. He’s in there lifting 100-pound dumbbells. I can do that every once in a while. I wouldn’t say I’m as strong as him, but whoever is in the running for second, I’d be willing to work out with them."
With his added strength as well as the experience that goes with pitching a full season in the majors, Miller has put himself in position to take the next step as a big-league start. And, though it was frustrating at the time, being off last October won’t hurt him come April.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter (@stanmcneal) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.