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BY BRENDAN MEYER

 

What happens when a starting pitcher doesn’t have his best stuff? Shelby Miller can now tell you.

Wednesday night was yet another learning experience for the 22-year-old rookie pitcher. He tied his second shortest start of the season, walking a career-high five batters in five innings and giving up three runs.

“It was a rough one,” Miller said. “I didn’t have anything going for me. I couldn’t throw strikes with much of anything. I tried to keep the team in it as much as I could with what I had.”

Miller walked the first batter of the game and realized he just wasn’t feeling it. He was able to get out of the first inning unscathed, but the walks caught up to him in the second inning. The Astros tagged him for two runs, as Miller walked two of the eight batters he faced in the inning, burning through 23 pitches.

Through two innings, 16 of his 34 pitches were balls.

“Yeah, never really had a feel for anything,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I think that’s a great compliment in the fact that you see him keeping us in the game. That could have been extremely ugly with the stuff he had today without really having control of his fastball and never even really getting to his secondary pitches.

“That’s usually a recipe for disaster.”

Miller was able to keep his team in it until the fifth inning, when he had already thrown 94 pitches. He had six 3-2 counts in the game, which turned into four walks, one strikeout and one groundout.

He left the game with the Cardinals trailing 3-1, but the offense had his back. In the bottom half of the inning, Matt Holliday plated two runs to tie the score 3-3, and later in the seventh inning, Matt Carpenter gave the Cardinals the lead for good with a two-run home run to eventually win the game 5-4.

“The offense picks you up,” Miller said. “This team, these guys never cease to amaze me when they go out there and do the things that they do. Always figuring out a way to win. They came up huge picking me up tonight.”

Miller finishes the first half of the season with a 9-6 record and a 2.92 ERA. He came out of the gate quickly this season but has struggled in three of his last four starts. Walks have never been the issue, though. Coming into Wednesday’s game, he was tied for 13th in the National League for the fewest walks (29) for pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings.

Because of the All-Star break, Miller will now have 13 days until he is on the mound again. During the long gap, Miller said that he wants to focus on one thing in particular for his next start.

“Throw strikes. That’s all I’ve got to work on,” Miller said. “My stuff is fine. I’ve just got to get it around the zone, and get it on the corners. Just fill up the zone. That’s what all the guys preach here. You see it with all of the starters, they go out there, and they get ahead in the counts, and pitch deep into games.

“That’s something I’ve been struggling with. That’s why we have guys here; they’re going to help me this whole year. I know there is a lot of room to improve.”

Even though Miller did not have his best stuff Wednesday night, he may have learned a more valuable lesson.

“He made pitches when he had to, and kept us in it,” Matheny said. “You don’t see young pitchers do that very well, very often.”

“It was just one of those days,” Miller said. “You go out and you go five innings, walk five guys, and give up five hits. It could have been way worse. It was a learning experience. It’s tough going out there when you don’t have your best stuff.”

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