Bill Hass on Baseball:Miller breaks into victory column

Miller breaks into victory column
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at….

Baseball dealt Brandon Miller a couple of setbacks he didn’t expect, but Thursday night he showed signs he’s putting those behind him.

Miller pitched six strong innings and the Hoppers beat Kannapolis 5–2. It was his first victory in a Greensboro uniform in 14 starts, dating back to last summer.

“I knew it was going to happen,” Miller said. “I just had to keep trusting that I could pitch at this level.”

In his previous outing, Miller lasted six innings but gave up 12 hits, many of them bloopers and infield hits. This time, he gave up two runs on five hits and one walk with six strikeouts against the league’s best-hitting team.

“This should really boost my confidence,” he said.

Miller was originally drafted by Seattle and in his second season in their system was having a fine year, 9–4 with a 3.64 ERA at Clinton in the Midwest League. That’s when setback ?1 happened. On July 20, he was part of a trade that sent four Mariners’ minor-leaguers to the Marlins for relief pitcher David Phelps.

“I had no idea it was coming,” Miller said. “It was a big shock. It showed me you never know what’s going to happen.”

So Miller went to a new team in a new league in a different part of the country. There were differences in rules and routines to adjust to. And then he encountered setback ?2.

“I had already pitched 100 innings in my first full season,” he said, “and I was getting fatigued and learning how to deal with that.”

He made five starts with the Hoppers and was hit hard (0–3 with an ERA of 8.86). After 21 innings, he was shut down for the season.

Starting in spring training and continuing through the season, he has worked with pitching coach Mark DiFelice to make some some mechanical adjustments in his delivery, mostly small things but important nevertheless. Slowly he has begun to come around.

Thursday he had good fastball location and used his slider well to curtail the Intimidators. The idea, he explained, was to keep the ball down and away and occasionally run something inside.

“He was throwing harder tonight,” said catcher B.J. Lopez. “He was locating the fastball away and that pitch is difficult to hit. And he had his slider and curve when he needed them.”

If Miller has had moments of doubt when things haven’t gone well, Lopez hasn’t seen them.

“You won’t see frustration in him,” the catcher said. “He’s quiet and he’s all about business when he’s out there.”

DiFelice said he’s encouraged by Miller’s progress.

“The kid can pitch and he’s got weapons,” the coach said. “He’s a competitor and I like what I’ve seen.”

Miller had a 3–2 lead after his stint and that was protected by two scoreless innings from Colton Hock and a save in the ninth by newcomer Vinny Aiello, who just joined the Hoppers from Jupiter. DiFelice believes Aiello might be a good fit in the back of the bullpen.

On offense, the Hoppers scored twice in the first inning without a hit and once in the third, also without a hit. In the seventh, they got a solo homer from Garvis Lara and an RBI single from Lazaro Alonso.

The Hoppers ended the homestand 4–4, including a four-game split with Kannapolis.

“That was two good games in a row,” said manager Todd Pratt, referring to a 3–2 loss Wednesday afternoon. “This time, we came out on top.”

The team heads on the road next, starting a five-game series in four days at Hagerstown Friday and then three at Lakewood.

NOTES: Lara had a double to go with his homer … Cameron Baranek drew two walks and scored twice … Kannapolis pitchers walked six batters, four by starter Zach Lewis in three innings … Shortstop Laz Rivera, the SAL’s leading hitter, got a day off for Kannapolis.