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Shelby Miller optimistic about post-Diamondbacks life

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Shelby Miller throws during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Chicago White Sox Friday, March 1, 2019, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

SURPRISE, Ariz. — When right-handed pitcher Shelby Miller arrived in Arizona after a trade from the Atlanta Braves during the winter of 2015, expectations were high for the then-24-year-old right-handed pitcher.

Miller, now 28, never lived up to the hope the Diamondbacks had for him – or that he had for himself. Now, he is counting on a return to his Texas roots to rekindle his career with the Texas Rangers.

Miller compiled a 6-17 record in his only season with the Braves before the trade, but he had gotten little run support. He started a league-high 33 games, ate up 205 1/3 innings and finished with a sparkling 3.02 ERA. He was named to the NL All-Star team.

The Diamondbacks envisioned Miller continuing to improve while chewing up innings and solidifying their rotation behind newly acquired ace Zack Greinke, who signed as a free agent.

However, by the time Miller departed when the Diamondbacks opted not to tender him an offer last winter, that 2015 trade, which sent 2015 No. 1 draft pick Dansby Swanson and outfielder Ender Inciarte to the Braves, was considered among the most notorious in Diamondbacks history. Swanson became Atlanta’s starting shortstop while Inciarte has been collecting Gold Glove awards playing center field.

In more than three seasons in Arizona, Miller pitched in only 29 games and underwent Tommy John surgery. He pitched in just nine games over his final two seasons and left Arizona with a 5-18 record and a 6.35 ERA.

Despite the struggles Miller went through with the Diamondbacks, he has nothing negative to say about his Arizona experience, or the team’s fans.

“I don’t look into what fans have to say,” Miller said. “I judge myself the hardest. The biggest thing is that you have to take pride in everything that you do, and what falls behind that is behind you. It’s not something you let dictate how you perform. At the end of the day, it’s your career and your team that you’re trying to play for.”

He needed a fresh start.

There were other options available to Miller, including with Oakland, but the opportunity to play in Arlington, Texas was more than a baseball decision when he signed as a free agent in January.

Born in Houston, Miller grew up in Brownwood, Texas about 130 miles from Arlington.

“I’m ecstatic about it,” Miller said. “Just getting to be home and around my family, and them getting the opportunity to come watch me more, is something that’s pretty special and doesn’t get to happen very often.

“We’re traveling all over the country for this job and for this career. For me to be an hour and a half, two hours away from my hometown is pretty lucky, and I’m very blessed.”

Going to the Rangers also represents a clean slate, and at 28, Miller still has the potential to have a long major league career.

“I think that getting a fresh start and kind of pressing the restart button is good,” Miller said. “A lot of people are saying that they think this is good for me in the long run, and we’ll see what happens. But I’m excited for the opportunity to play here.”

Miller starts the season as the fifth man in the Rangers rotation and is scheduled to make his season debut April 2 against Houston at Globe Life Ballpark. Mike Minor is slated to be the Opening Day starter against the Cubs.

Miller made four spring training starts and compiled a 5.19 earned run average in 8 2/3 innings, but his focus was on building his pitch count as spring training progressed. He reached 77 pitches in a back-field start against minor leaguers late in spring, allowing only one run on five hits.

“The biggest thing is just building up a bunch of reps to be where I need to be for the season,” Miller said. “Obviously I’ve been hurt the past two years, sat out most of it. Right now it’s more (about) building up the strength and conditioning, and all that stuff, to be ready for the long season.”

Given the arm troubles he experienced with the Diamondbacks, which included elbow inflammation that shut him down for most of his final season in Arizona, Miller has understandably taken a patient approach this spring.

“The biggest thing’s health, obviously,” he said. “Just seeing how the pitches and stuff is coming out of my hand, and pitch development. We’ve got all this new technology that we use, so just honing in on that stuff and seeing what the results will be. But at the end of the day, physically I’ll be ready. Going into the season, it’s just about being healthy.”

The work isn’t finished, though. Miller signed a one-year deal with the Rangers, reportedly worth $2 million. However, if he reaches incentives in the deal, it could reportedly boost that number to $5 million.

Rangers manager Chris Woodward has high expectations for Miller because Miller has those expectations for himself.

“It’s a little cliché, but belief is pretty powerful,” Woodward said. “When you have an individual that believes in something … I’ve seen enough in this game to know there’s been a lot of players that have had a lot of success at the major league level based off of belief in their heart that they could play at that level. And because of that belief, they knew that they belonged.”

Miller is in a new organization, but one that feels like home.

“I’m excited for the year,” he said. “I think that this is a big year for me. I think I’m very prepared. I’ve been hurt the past two years, but I’m poised to go out and am trying to be the best competitor I can be.

“At the end of the day, we’ll see what happens. But I’m ready to go for sure.”

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