Bill Hass on Baseball:Miller pays dividends out of the bullpen

Miller pays dividends out of the bullpen
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

Brandon Miller has found a new niche and is making the most of it.

After struggling as a starting pitcher, the right-hander was switched to the bullpen. Saturday night, he threw four scoreless innings and picked up his third win of the year as the Hoppers beat Hickory 8–5 before a crowd of 8,055.

“Miller was the key to the game,” said manager Todd Pratt. “He shut down a potent offense. He had command of four pitches and attacked the (strike) zone. He was huge for us.”

It was Miller’s fourth appearance as a reliever after making 17 starts. He gave up three runs in three innings his first time out of the bullpen, but in his last three games he has pitched 10 1/3 scoreless innings.

“That’s my role now, pitching in long relief, so I’ve had to go and embrace it,” Miller said. “I don’t have to pace myself as much as I did as a starter, so I can really let it loose.”

And that’s the idea, explained pitching coach Mark DiFelice. When he was a starter, hitters would start catching up to Miller’s repertoire the third and fourth times through the lineup.

“His stuff plays better out of the pen when he sees hitters one or two times,” DiFelice said. “He has really accepted the role to give us some length in relief and he has made the transition pretty seamless. He’s pitching with confidence.”

Miller replaced starter Edward Cabrera, who had an easy first inning and then lost his command. In the next two innings Cabrera gave up five walks, three hits and four runs.

Miller had little trouble in his first three innings but in the top of the seventh he surrendered singles to the first two hitters. He buckled down to get Tyreque Reed to hit into a double play, helped by a strong throw by Jose Devers on the relay from second base. Miller then caught Pedro Gonzalez looking at strike three on a slow curve that floated over the plate at 74 miles per hour.

“After the two singles, I still had to execute pitches,” Miller said. “I was able to get weak contact on that double play and the strikeout was huge. I threw him six or seven off-speed pitches in a row.”

After Miller’s four shutout innings, Nestor Bautista gave up a solo home run in the eighth and then pitched out of a jam. Jeremy Ovalle battled his way to a save despite giving up two walks in the ninth.

Hoppers pitchers recorded 13 strikeouts, many coming to close out innings. Miller ended his stint with one, Bautista got two in a row to get out of the eighth inning and Ovalle finished with two straight to end the ninth.

The offense had its moments, too. ?8 hitter Michael Hernandez socked his fourth homer, a solo shot to right field. ?9 hitter Chris Torres belted his first of the year and later added an RBI single. Isael Soto drove in runs with a double and a bases-loaded walk.

Tristan Pompey, the Marlins’ ?3 draft pick in June, had four hits, drew a walk, drove in a run, scored twice and stole a base.

“He’s really swinging the bat well,” Pratt said. “You can see why they made him their third pick.”

It was a satisfying moment for Hernandez, whose homer went to the opposite field. He’s done stellar defensive work at catcher despite hitting just .180.

“I’ve been working on my hitting with the coaches,” Hernandez said. “Nothing major, just fine-tuning some things. I’m always trying to make my swing path to right field. I got a good hitter’s count and hit a fastball out.”

The marathon game lasted three hours and 32 minutes. Eight pitchers combined to throw 343 pitches and issue 13 walks.

The short series wraps up with a 4 p.m. game Sunday. Trevor Rogers will be the Hoppers’ starter.

NOTES: Hickory got two solo home runs (Reed and Miguel Aparicio) but the Crawdads went 0-for-16 with runners in scoring position … Torres hit his homer right-handed and drove it to right field in the second inning. In the sixth inning he just missed a home run hitting left-handed on a drive caught at the left-field fence … The Hoppers won their third straight and are 17–18 in the second half.