Miller showing improved command

SURPRISE, Ariz. – After showing improved command during the second half with High-A Bakersfield last summer, righty Justin Miller has earned an assignment to Double-A Frisco out of camp this year. Lone Star Dugout interviews and profiles the relief prospect.

Justin Miller earned an assignment to the Double-A Frisco bullpen out of camp not only because of his performance this spring, but also due to his impressive results down the stretch at Bakersfield last summer.

While the Fresno State product has always flashed decent stuff, he struggled with his command of the strike zone in his first full season. Miller gave out 16 free passes in 21.1 innings between Spokane and Bakersfield in '09.

During the first half of the 2010 campaign, Miller posted a 3.65 ERA and fanned 24 batters in 24.2 innings. But he also walked 16, highlighting his previous issues.

Miller attributed his early-season command issues to a spring training mechanical adjustment that he never found comfort with. After missing over a month of the season (from June 15 until July 30) with elbow inflammation, he returned to his old mechanics.

The right-hander quickly became a force out of the Bakersfield bullpen upon his return. In the final two-plus months of the season, he surrendered just six runs on 16 hits in 22.1 innings (2.42 ERA). Most importantly, he walked only five while striking out 28.

Miller appears to have carried his strong late-season performance into the 2011 campaign––or at least into spring training. He pitched well and earned action in a pair of big league games, where he allowed two runs in two innings.

In a recent Double-A outing in camp, Miller put the improved fastball command on display. The 23-year-old was able to work his 91-94 mph fastball to both corners of the plate and threw strikes with consistency. His 83-86 mph slider also flashed plus, as it had more break and sharper bite than previous years.

The lone blemish in Miller's outing was a long round-tripper that he allowed to former first-round pick Allan Dykstra, who was traded to the Mets a day later. The homer came on an 85 mph changeup that stayed up and over the plate.

Miller will turn 24 this summer, making this season's Double-A results all the more important. But if he continues to command the solid fastball, slider mix, he should have plenty of success with the 'Riders.



Jason Cole: Give me your thoughts on today's outing.

Justin Miller: Today's outing––it was kind of weird. At first, Rhodes came in and threw, so I thought I wasn't going to throw. Then I asked the guys if I was backing up, and they said, ‘No, we'll get you in.' So I knew I was going to throw the 10th because we were going to go into extras. I felt good out there.

Cole: You got some time in big league games this spring. Was it two appearances?

Miller: Yeah, I got two outings up there and went up there three times.

Cole: Had you ever pitched in a major league spring training game before?

Miller: No. That was my first time.

Cole: Your first time on the mound was against Seattle here in Surprise. What was that experience like?

Miller: They told me to get warm and I didn't feel any nerves or anything like that. It was just throwing regularly. Once I started going through the gate and running out on the grass and got up on the mound, I kind of felt a little bit nervous. And then once I started throwing my warmup pitches, I was like, ‘This is the same game. It's 60 feet and six inches.' So I felt good out there.

Cole: What were your overall thoughts on last season in general?

Miller: Last season––I started off kind of rocky. I was trying to work on some stuff. And every month since the first month, I started improving. My arm started hurting me during the middle of the year, and I had to come out here to Arizona and rehab for a month. Then I went back to Bakersfield. I guess when I went back, I felt a little strong and I kind of worked out the mechanical issues down here, too. I just started throwing more strikes and throwing better sliders in better locations.

Cole: What were some of those mechanical things that you worked out?

Miller: They tried to move my feet around a little bit, and I wasn't able to get back in line and get my arm in the right path. When I got back here to Arizona, I got straightened out a little bit more and got back to my old ways. This year, they've moved my hands up a little bit and it has kind of got me quicker to the plate. It helps me also stay back a little bit more, too.

Cole: Does all of that help you command your fastball?

Miller: Yeah. This year, definitely. This spring training, I've had more command than ever. My first outing, I threw 10 pitches and nine were strikes. And then the next outing, when I threw in the big league game, I threw 17 pitches and 10 were strikes. So I was able to throw a lot more strikes this year.

Cole: The more you're able to command your fastball and get ahead in counts, are you finding yourself with more confidence out there?

Miller: Yeah. Getting confidence is a real big key in pitching. Knowing now that I can throw my pitches pretty much when I want and where I want at any time––it's a lot more confidence.

Cole: What are you working on now when you throw bullpens or work in the game?

Miller: Right now, I'm trying to find a routine as a late-inning guy, middle relief, or whatever they want me as. I'm trying to find a routine in that bullpen with what I need to throw, how many pitches I need to throw, and what locations. Instead of working right down the middle––throwing all my pitches right down the middle––I'll try to work corners and maybe only throw like 15 pitches. Then I'll save all my bullets for the game.

Cole: It seemed like you had pretty good fastball command and were working the corners out there today.

Miller: Oh yeah, today was good. It was kind of weird. When I was out there in the bullpen, I was a little bit erratic. And then when I went out there and threw my first two pitches, they were in the dirt. So I was down, but they were in the dirt. I knew I wasn't going to miss too high, but I just had to move it up just a little bit.

Cole: And it also looked like your slider has gradually progressed over the last year or two. Can you talk about what has led to that development? Do you feel that it has improved?

Miller: It's probably about the same that I had the year before, but it has a little bit more oomph behind it this year, I guess. I've been throwing it anywhere between 84 to 86, and it still has the good depth and break to it. I'm trying to distinguish the two between a strike slider and a strikeout slider. I've been working on those two.

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