COMMENTARY | Following his one-hit gem back on May 10 against the Colorado Rockies, many fans and baseball pundits were curious to see what St. Louis Cardinals rookie sensation Shelby Miller had in store for the New York Mets on Wednesday night.
Once again, Miller was absolutely electric in yet another display of pure power and dominance. Miller has quickly become one of the best young pitchers in all of baseball.
Miller struck out six hitters while allowing just one free pass and four hits in the effort, lowering his ERA to a miniscule 1.40 on the season. But Miller, who is 5-2, was unable to pick up the victory in the Cardinals' 4-2 win over the Mets, in part, because he lasted just 5.2 innings after throwing 96 pitches.
Even after Miller was able to strike out Mets star third baseman David Wright, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny elected to pull Miller from the game with two outs in the sixth inning and a runner on third base with the Cardinals leading 2-0. Matheny chose to bring in lefty Randy Choate to face left-handed swinging Ike Davis, but the move also was likely tied to the fact that Miller's pitch count was once again elevated.
There have been some, particularly Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who have highlighted the high pitch counts of Miller and the other Cardinals starters early in the season. Goold writes that entering Wednesday's game, Miller had averaged 105 pitches per start.
In a day and age where pitch counts are mapped, charted, scrutinized and ridiculed more than ever before, Miller's early-season workload deserves some attention. But it should not be anything to worry about.
In fact, the Cardinals should not be too careful with Miller going forward, and the model they have followed thus far early in 2013 has been perfect.
Miller is just 22 years of age and the latest fad in baseball is to baby young pitchers. For evidence, see what the Washington Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg last season and the New York Mets did in 2012 with their own sensation, Matt Harvey.
But babying pitchers often times does not yield the long-term results teams covet, either. Strasburg was rumored to have forearm tightness just a few weeks ago, and the most classic example of "ultimate babying" came with the treatment the New York Yankees gave Joba Chamberlain during his youth. Chamberlain has been on the disabled list with various injuries ever since.
At the quarter point in the season, Miller is on pace to toss 204 innings in 2013, which is quite a jump over the 151.1 combined innings he threw with St. Louis and Triple-A Memphis in 2012. But when put in perspective based off how he is throwing these innings, the jump in workload is not too much for Miller to handle, considering how he is going about mowing down the opposition.
Miller has been building for this moment. His body has matured. His motion is flawless. His reliance on his fastball, which he throws 75 percent of the time according to Fangraphs.com, causes less wear and tear than off-speed pitches like sliders and split-fingers cause. His fastball, which is averaging 93 mph on the radar gun, comes from a repeatable motion and does not create much risk of injury or wearing down, especially as he continues to pound the strike zone with it against hapless opponents.
Matheny is using Miller exactly the way he should thus far in 2013. When Miller is cruising, Matheny should let the rookie go deep into games, regardless of pitch count, as he did in the one-hit special Miller posted against the Rockies. But when a situation arises where Matheny can take advantage of a matchup and remove Miller when his pitch count does start to get elevated, he should do so, just as he did Wednesday night.
The Cardinals have not babied Miller thus far in 2013 and nor should they going forward throughout the rest of the 2013 season.
Miller is throwing the ball as well as anyone in baseball, and the Cardinals should continue to let him.
You can follow Rudd on Twitter @CoreyRudd.
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