(BaseballStL) -- On multiple occasions during the 3-0 win against the Colorado Rockies on Friday, manager Mike Matheny was worried about his starting pitcher, who would retire the final 27 batters faced.
There was a slight choking incident in the third inning, a possible blister forming on his finger throughout the game, a slip on the top step coming out for the eighth inning and that always prevalent pitch count.
Through it all, Shelby Miller made his seventh start of the season, and eighth of his career, one to remember -- with no problems.
When asked if he felt pretty good after his first career complete game shutout, Miller jokingly said, “not at all.”
“I feel really good,” Miller said. “It’s definitely the best game I’ve thrown in my life. How it finished was unbelievable.”
How it finished began with the second batter of the game, Dexter Fowler, two and a half hours before the final out was recorded.
“It was one of the better outings we could ask from anybody just how he held his composure and made real good pitches all night long against a very good offense,” Matheny said. “It was...wow.”
Entering their 17th road game of the season, the Rockies led the NL with a .276 batting average on the road. That average dropped to .265 for Colorado after Miller carved them for nine scoreless innings en route to setting a new career high in strikeouts with 13.
The Rockies don’t sport a weak lineup, by any means, either.
Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, who batted 2-3-4 on Friday, combined to hit 22 home runs with 62 runs batted in this season. They went a combined 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts against the rookie pitcher.
The results put Miller ahead of all rookie starting pitchers in wins (5), innings pitched (45.2), earned run average (1.58) and strikeouts (51).
Rated the No. 6 overall top prospect this season by Baseball America, Miller may not have had this success if not for last year’s failures at Triple-A Memphis.
Exactly one year ago, Miller allowed eight hits, four runs (three earned) in 6.2 innings pitched in a 6-4 loss to the Reno Aces. The Cardinals’ top pitching prospect was looking more like a bust while posting a 1-6 record with a 7.52 earned run average through the next 10 starts at Triple-A Memphis.
He would eventually turn his season around while winning six of his last seven starts before a September call-up to St. Louis. He deserved it, Matheny said.
“He had proven just about everything he needed to prove at every level through the system,” Matheny said. “Last year was a great learning lesson, great opportunity for him. I think it was one of the best things that could possibly happen as he watches a Joe Kelly kind of jump and get the opportunity to come up here -- and (Trevor) Rosenthal and all that -- while he was struggling a little bit, I think refocused him.”
It’s not often the words “choke” and “slip” are used to describe a pitcher, who just mowed down 27 consecutive batters, but that’s what happened for Miller.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound righty needed a mound visit in the third inning after throwing up in his mouth from gulping down a cup filled with Gatorade. He would also trip after missing the top step while heading out to the mound in the eighth inning.
“It didn’t taste very good,” Miller said of the Gatorade incident. “They brought water out there to kind of clear my throat out. It didn’t taste good at all.”
The would-be scares were nothing more than that.
The strong early season performance for Miller is putting his name in historical context within the organization.
Miller’s performance makes him the first rookie pitcher in team history to strikeout 11 or more batters in a game since Rick Ankiel in 2000, to throw a shutout since Jaime Garcia in 2010 and also tied the rookie record for strikeouts with 13, held by Dick Hughes (1967) and Scipio Spinks (1972).
There was, of course, a concern for the number of pitches thrown by Miller, which was 113 pitches (84 strikes). Matheny said it became more of a batter-by-batter situation than a pitch count in the final innings.
“It was a decision because he’s a young pitcher,” Matheny said of keeping Miller in the game. “He obviously looked really good. There’s no question about that. He had a short leash right there so it would have been tough to pull him out, but try to do what’s best for him in the long run which is best for our club.”