(BaseballStL) -- Shelby Miller may have taken the biggest step so far of his young career in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Washington Nationals.
Thing quickly began to unravel on Miller in the first inning when he walked Nationals leadoff hitter Denard Span, who stole second base and advanced to third with one out. Miller issued another walk to Jayson Werth to put runners on the corners. Bryce Harper followed with an RBI single, his second hit in his previous 16 at-bats, to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead and the boost the team needed after being held to one hit in a shutout loss the night before.
Miller threw 27 pitches, 15 were strikes, to complete inning, but major damage was avoided as the next two batters lined out to Jon Jay and that’s when Miller began to take the next step.
“I felt like in the first inning we were having trouble getting ahead in the count,” Miller said. “We walked a couple of guys and one of them ended up scoring, but I felt like we did a really nice job of settling in.”
The ‘settling in’ happened immediately for the 22-year-old rookie as he sat down eight consecutive batters before allowing a two-out single to Adam LaRoche in the fourth inning. He would allow one baserunner in each of his last three innings pitched.
But no damage done as his team took a three-run lead in the sixth inning to give the rookie his 15th win of the season, the most for a Cardinal rookie since Dick Hughes’ 16 wins in 1967.
“Shelby wasn’t as sharp today, but he competed very well and I thought he got better as he went,” Matheny said. “He didn’t have a lot of that crispness that we’ve seen from him.”
Those were the first comments from Matheny after Miller allowed one run to score on four hits and three walks over six innings pitched. But his next comments showed the difference between Miller in April to Miller in September.
“It’s a huge step for any young pitcher,” Matheny said. “Something else you can take note of is last time we faced these guys he was different style pitcher. He was a guy that lived in the top of the strike zone, reared back and threw it as hard as he could, and get a lot of chases in the top of the zone. Now, he’s doing a little more pitching and he’s still using the top but he’s using it effectively.”
Matheny was referencing Miller’s fourth start of the season which came at Washington. Miller allowed two runs, but none earned, on three hits and two walks over 6 2/3 innings of a 3-2 win on April 22.
“I was probably more of just throw the fastball and see if they can hit it,” Miller said of the first outing against Washington. “That would run my pitch count up a lot. My efficiency has been a big thing for me lately.”
Five months ago, he threw 98 pitches over 6 2/3 innings against the Nationals. On Wednesday, he threw 90 pitches into the seventh inning. If not for a nine-pitch walk to LaRoche to start the seventh inning, Miller may have remained in the game longer and continue to take the necessary strides to help the Cardinals clinch the NL Central.
Scott Bierman covers the Cardinals, Rams and Blues for KMOV.com and its associated mobile apps (BaseballStL, FootballStL and HockeyStL). You can follow him on Twitter @Scott_Bierman for St. Louis sports news.