By Dan Buffa
(FOR KSDK SPORTS) - Shelby Miller is a mad mixture of talent and potential. On one hand, he carries the look of a future ace and on the other he is an inconsistent young hot mess. On Saturday in Toronto, Miller proved that he can be a dominating pitcher when he has his mind and arm in the same place. The Blue Jays were the hottest team in the American League, riding a 6 game winning streak and tearing up everything in their path. They hit home runs, score a ton of runs and play in a park where a baseball ball booms off the ground like a tennis ball at the US Open. It's a place where young pitcher go to die and the home team sends opposing teams in to the video board to see where they left their pitches. The Blue Jays inflict depression on opposing pitching staffs and their coaches. Well....
Miller didn't just beat the Blue Jays Saturday. He shut them down completely and denied them access to home plate. Sure, the hitters approached the plate when they hit, but even if they reached base, they failed to cross home plate again. In the most unlikely of circumstances, Shelby Miller threw a complete game shutout.
How did he do it? He used his pitches. Both of them. He disguised his devastating sneaky fastball with a decent curve and was able to move the ball around the plate. If a fastball was up, it was way up and too hard to handle. He kept his curve down and it carried bite. He mixed in a cutter and a few times, a changeup but like most starts, Miller is a general two pitch arm. More importantly, he didn't abandon his game plan in the sense of trouble. Miller hadn't allowed a single hit until with two outs in the 6th inning, Jose Reyes slapped a single to right field. The Blue Jays put another runner on base via a wicked infield hop and Jose Bautista stepped to the plate with a chance to clear the board and demoralize young Shelby. Instead, Miller blew a 97 mph fastball past Bautista's upper chest and struck him out. In the follow through on the pitch, Miller nearly pulls a Bob Gibson in giving everything he had on the pitch. When Shelby throws a baseball, he lowers his arm like a sledge hammer. On that pitch, it was emphatic. That was the last chance the Blue Jays had in the game.
This is the type of pitcher Shelby can be. In the early going of 2014, he has put on the skin of Joe Kelly. A fellow hard throwing arm who doesn't strike out a ton of hitters and puts a lot of them on base. Miller hasn't be sharp this year and has done a lot of escaping. He is among the league leaders in walks, home runs allowed yet is up there in runners stranded as well. His fielding independent ERA(taking away the benefit of a defense scooping up your mistakes) is a bad 4.77. Miller's walk rate is nearly 4 per 9 innings. He has a K/BB split of 53-34 and in 77 innings those 10 home runs stick out. More often than not, Miller has been a man who doesn't trust his second pitch. His changeup isn't used every game and his cutter is supportive but when he sticks to his curveball that fastball of his can be magnetic. It comes out of a hand and picks up speed as it hits the plate and sneaks up on hitters. It's an unconventional heater but it needs protection in order to be effective. On Saturday, Miller struck out 5, walked 1 and split his groundballs(9) up with his fly ball outs(13) quite nicely.
If he is this good, Shelby can be a top of the rotation force and someone who can bind with Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha to complete a fearsome group. At his worst, he is an arm with tons of questions and doubt. The most important thing for Shelby is to build off this start. Start taking steps forward and resist the setbacks. The shutout is great but if it needs sequels and I want to see the kid become more polished as the season grows. The rotation is in need of depth and innings and Miller can provide that. Shelby has the talent to be a force, but he needs discipline and a string of good starts.
Saturday was a pleasant surprise and reminder of Miller's potential. He can be dominating and has an ability to shut the best offense in the league down when he has his stuff working.
Shelby Miller was a rookie of the year candidate in 2013. What type of pitcher will fans and scribes say he is after the 2014 season is finished? Saturday was a promising step for the young phenom.
Dan Buffa is a sports writer for Sports Rants. He is also a contributor to KSDK.com and Arch City Sports while writing for his own website, Dose Of Buffa. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @buffa82.