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D-backs’ Shelby Miller looks strong in first game action since surgery

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Shelby Miller throws in the first inning during a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Friday, April 7, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Shelby Miller returned to the mound Friday, throwing for the first time in game action since injuring his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery on May 10 of last year.

Miller pitched 3.0 hitless innings in an extended spring game against the Oakland A’s at Salt River Fields, needing just over 30 pitches to do so. After throwing three balls within the first two batters he faced, his command rounded into shape quickly to cruise through the A’s order once over before he threw 10 more pitches in the bullpen to increase his workload.

Most importantly, he came out feeling confident, taking steps forward as he pushes to help the major league club down two starting pitchers.

“It felt good,” Miller said Friday. “You never really know what to expect out there for what we’re having to go through but overall felt fantastic. Stamina was good the whole time. Really felt strong overall throughout the whole three innings I threw, even finishing the last 10 in the bullpen.”

The 27-year-old right-hander played in four games to start 2017 and recorded a 4.09 ERA and 2-2 record before suffering his UCL injury.

Following Miller’s first game since April 23, 2017, he’s not sure what comes next: Another extended spring outing or a rehab assignment to a minor league squad.

He did, however, expect that the D-backs will reduce his days between starts from seven to six, making next Thursday the date of his next action.

Radar guns Friday were clocking Miller’s fastball at 92 to 93 mph, he said. Oakland’s minor league players popped out three times and grounded out once on a play that forced the pitcher to cover first base. Aside from the final batter fouling off four pitches and an earlier line drive to left field that was snagged by the outstretched glove of Arizona’s shortstop, the A’s struggled to make contact against Miller.

“I didn’t hit my spot every single time,” the pitcher said, before adding, “kind of seeing their swings and when they miss and they’re aggressive, that’s nice.”

Fellow D-backs starter Taijuan Walker’s own Tommy John surgery that ended his season and Robbie Ray’s oblique strain that could have a tentative timetable for recovery puts Miller’s strong outing in the spotlight.

Miller has been making progress in bullpen sessions, but with his first game action coming exactly a year and a day from his surgery, the Diamondbacks assuredly will be cautious bringing him along.

Looking ahead, his focus is on building innings, refining his stuff and building confidence.

“I really wanted my cutter to be a little bit better,” he said of his goals heading into Friday. “It hadn’t been as good as I wanted it in the past. Today it was tremendously better than it has been in the live BPs I’ve been throwing. That’s a great feeling.

“Fastball command was better, curveball was pretty good. I didn’t throw any splits but threw some in the pens that were really good. Really, it’s just piecing the puzzle to get back where I need to be.”

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