Shelby Miller will take the mound when the Arizona Diamondbacks face the Atlanta Braves Saturday at Turner Field.
It will be his scheduled turn in the rotation, and his next chance to finally put together the kind of performance the D-backs expected of him when he was acquired in a December trade from Atlanta.
The 25-year-old right-hander has started six games this season, but has made it through the fourth inning in just three of them. He has failed to get through the third inning in three of his last four outings, leading some to speculate he might have his turn in the rotation skipped.
But according to manager Chip Hale, who was a guest of Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday, that will not happen.
“We’ll be in Atlanta, (and) we’re hoping that that will help him a little bit, getting on a mound that he’s comfortable on,” Hale said. “He had a lot of success last year, so we’re hoping that will be a plus for him.”
Miller posted a 6-17 record with the Braves last season, but pitched better than his record indicated. He had an ERA of 3.02 and a WHIP of 1.25, and was named to the NL All-Star Team. So far with the D-backs, he has an 8.49 ERA and a 1.97 WHIP.
However, Hale said there were signs of hope in Miller’s Sunday start against the Rockies, in which he allowed three runs on four hits and four walks while striking out three in 3.2 innings.
“Of course we’re not happy, he’s not happy with his last outing,” Hale added. “He had signs, again, pitching very well. The ball was jumping out of his hand, he was getting guys to swing and miss — and we know that team was hot, hitting, coming in.
“And he looked like, the first time around, he had their number. He just got in a jam and couldn’t get out of it.”
Indeed, Miller kept the Rockies off the board until the fourth inning, where he was touched up for three runs after allowing four singles and two walks, including one that came with the bases loaded.
“I hate to say next game I’d like to see him get into a jam and get out of it — I’d like to see him just go smooth for seven innings — but that’s probably the key, is being able to get out of those man on first, man on first and second and be able to throw strikes,” Hale said.
The manager said pitching coach Mike Buttcher is watching a lot of video in hopes of figuring out what is going wrong.
“But really what it comes down to is him just going out there and doing it.”
In a perfect world, the beginning of Miller’s season turnaround will come Saturday in his old stomping grounds. A good effort against a weak-hitting team would, while not signify all is well, be a welcome step in the right direction.
At the same time, the question of what the organization might do with the hurler if he struggles once again persists.
“We haven’t had those discussions,” Hale said. “I think we’ve all, in our own minds, thought about it. I know Tony (La Russa) and I played golf yesterday with Matt Williams and Dave McKay, and the subject came up about Shelby, and we all felt really strongly about Atlanta being a place where he could have some success.
“So we haven’t gone there yet; I think all of us, individually, have thought of ‘what if this, what if that,’ but it’s like anything else in life — at some point he’s going to have to have some success and we’re going to have to help him get through it, and we’re hoping it’s this time.”
That would be ideal.
It would be unfair to pin the D-backs’ early-season struggles solely on Miller, as many have contributed to the team’s disappointing 12-15 start. But of all the players on the roster, the pitcher is the only one the team surrendered a starting outfielder, a top pitching prospect and the former No. 1 overall pick in the draft for.
D-backs GM Dave Stewart suggested the amount of assets Arizona parted with to land Miller may have led the pitcher to feel some added pressure, which Hale acknowledged could very well be the case.
“That’s human nature for him to think about it,” he said. “He’s a great kid; he’s so good on this club — I’ve said this many times, I hope he does well.
“But sometimes when guys are that way they just want to make it seem like, hey, it was a great deal. We’ve never thought anything else — we still don’t. We know he’s going to be good. It’s not like it’s a month into the season; we have him under control for three years and we know he’s going to be a big part of our team winning.”