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Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Shelby Miller walks back to the dugout after throwing in the first inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
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Shelby Miller feeling ‘good’ after first spring start of 2017

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Shelby Miller walks back to the dugout after throwing in the first inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – There’s no way to predict what Shelby Miller’s 2017 campaign is going to look like after just a couple innings of Cactus League baseball and Saturday’s outing yielded mixed results.

The 26-year old righty allowed two runs on three hits over two innings of work against Colorado at Salt River Fields. He mowed down the Rockies in order in the first, striking out Charlie Blackmon, getting D.J. LeMahieu to fly out to right and inducing a ground out to second by Carlos Gonzalez.

The second frame didn’t go as well, though. Nolan Arenado led off with a soft single to right, and Ian Desmond did the same. Miller showed some resolve by striking out the next two batters — Mark Reynolds looking and Trevor Story swinging — before Gerardo Parra hit a sharp chopper to second that Brandon Drury couldn’t come up with. The ball ended up in center field, while both runners came around to score.

Miller retired Tony Wolters to end the inning, and ultimately pitched a little better than his stat line showed. None of the three hits he surrendered were all that bad, and the two-run single by Parra was nearly the final out of the inning.

Miller also reached 96 mph with his fastball, throwing 23 of his 29 pitches for strikes.

“I felt good. That was the main thing,” he said afterward. “Threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, which is what you want, and then stuff-wise I felt pretty good. Curveball was good, cutter was good. So, early on in camp, I’m pretty excited about that. Overall I feel really good right now.”

A year after stumbling to a 3-12 record and 6.15 ERA, Miller’s looking to bounce back in a big way this season and the Diamondbacks certainly need him to. Not only to shore up a pitching staff that’s currently brimming with both upside and question marks, but to get them some positive return on the now infamous trade that sent 2015 No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson to Atlanta last offseason.

To be fair, that deal was made by the previous regime, but as new GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo begin to assess what they have to work with this year, Miller’s spring training performance will be pivotal.

“At this time last year I was battling my mechanics pretty hard and wasn’t always as aggressive as I wanted to be with my pitches,” Miller explained. “Today I felt like I threw a lot of strikes and got ahead on a lot of counts which, you know, set us up for some strikeouts and some softer balls put in play. Right now, mechanically and pitch-wise, I’m real comfortable and confident in what I’ve got going.”

Last spring, the hope was that Miller could step in as the clear No. 2 or No. 3 starter behind Zack Greinke. That obviously didn’t work out, but Arizona doesn’t necessarily need him to fill that role this time around. With Taijuan Walker coming over from Seattle, the D-backs now have Miller, Walker, Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray and Archie Bradley competing to form a rotation behind Greinke.

That means Miller just needs to be decent. As in, posting an ERA much closer to the mid-3.00 number he routinely put up in his years with St. Louis and Atlanta.

Last season was the outlier so far in his career, so a bounce-back is entirely possible, but 2016 was such an extreme that fans in Arizona are going to need to see a much better performance in 2017 before they forget it.

BASE HITS

– Colorado won Saturday’s contest by a final of 8-4 in front of 9,795 fans.

– Paul Goldschmidt drove in a run in his first official at-bat of the spring.

– Jake Lamb followed up with a two-run homerun into the left-center lawn right after.

– Archie Bradley surrendered a homer to Story and a triple to Wolters, ultimately allowing five earned runs in just 1.1 innings of work. As he noted in the clubhouse afterward, however, “it’s February”.

– These two clubs will meet again at Salt River Fields on Sunday afternoon, with the Rockies playing as the home team. First pitch is set for 1:10, with coverage on ESPN Phoenix 620 AM.

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