ST. LOUIS — Mike Matheny believes the ace of the team should establish the tone. In the tight-knit, über competitive climate of a starting rotation, the number one hurler is responsible for setting the standard.
Adam Wainwright set a gold one Wednesday, smothering the Brewers with a complete game shutout. Thursday, Shelby Miller will look to top it. It’s just the nature of starting pitchers.
“Even, if you’re out there watching them hit right now, it’s a competition from the time they put their spikes on and walk out here,” Matheny said. “They do like trying to one-up the previous guy.”
Wainwright finished nine innings with seven strikeouts and seven hits, needing only 102 pitches to get it done. Miller will have a tough time besting the effort, but his recent string of outings leaves room for the imagination to run wild.
He’s gone 2-0 in September in three starts, with 11 hits, one run and 14 strikeouts over 20 innings. The no-decision was a seven inning scoreless start that saw the Cards eventually beat the Pirates 1-0. Much of his success is due to an evolution of his pitch arsenal. Matheny noted Thursday the new tools have made Miller a far more dangerous starter of late.
“He has a great track record of winning, and he’s done that being basically one-dimensional. As he came up through the system he had a good, funny fastball,” Matheny said. “Just enough different than everybody else in the league with late life and rise to it they he was able to get away with just showing a couple other pitches. Now he’s got four different weapons he can use.”
Batters have seen more of Miller’s curveball in the second half, as the 23-year-old has found confidence in the pitch. According to Miller, Yadier Molina began calling the hook more often when he returned and the repetition has led to trust in the breaking ball.
From April 1st until July 31, Miller threw 323 curveballs over 21 starts. In August, he threw 100 curves in just five. So far in September, he’s thrown 91 in three games. The breaker has become a staple, and Miller is complementing it with an evolving sinker.
When he was pulled from the rotation in July, the former first-rounder had attempted just 13 sinkers over the first four months of the season. When he returned he brought the revamped pitch with him, throwing it 47 times in August and 14 already in September.
Batters are seeing a new Shelby Miller as the season progresses, and his box of tricks seems to be getting deeper and more dangerous. That’s good for him, because he may need all of them if he’s going to one-up the ace.