Justin Miller’s time in the Nationals’ organization, after he signed a minor league deal with Washington this winter, began with 13 2⁄3 scoreless innings, over which he struck out 23 of the 46 batters he faced with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, and gave up just three hits (.070 BAA).
It’s not just Minor League hitters who are having a hard time making contact with the right-hander’s pitches this season.
Through 10 2⁄3 IP since he was called up the majors back on May 26th, the recently-turned 31-year-old right-hander has given up just two hits (.061 BAA), while striking out 21 batters out of the 34 he’s faced.
“Honestly, I don’t know how we got him, but I’m glad he’s here, and he’s doing really well, and he fits our needs,” Davey Martinez told reporters after Miller gave him 1 2⁄3 scoreless innings in Wednesday night’s 5-4 win over the New York Yankees, and earned a win for the fourth time in eight appearances out of the Nats’ bullpen.
Justin Miller, Filthy 84mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/6qLpFnfkvC— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 14, 2018
He earned the fourth win on his 31st birthday, in Yankee Stadium, on a nationally-televised game, which, he admitted, was nice.
“It doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure,” Miller joked with reporters.
“It’s pretty nice. I guess I’m in the weeds. I just keep snaking wins. It’s lucky trying to get wins out of the bullpen, I guess I’m just in the right spot at the right time.”
With Ryan Madson DL’d late last month, and with Brandon Kintzler currently sidelined with forearm tightness, Miller has been the right guy at the right time for the Nationals’ bullpen needs, and Martinez, seeing what he’s doing, has been willing to use him in high-leverage situations, showing trust in the veteran reliever.
“It means a lot,” Miller acknowledged. “Davey, he’s a players’ coach, he played for a long time, so I mean, just getting those phone calls in that situation, in those times, it’s nice.”
“You can use him in different situations,” Martinez explained.
“I use him in high leverage situations and it doesn’t phase him a bit. You can do a lot of things with him. Multiple innings. He takes the ball. He comes in every day... one day he threw 30-something pitches came in the next day and said, ‘I’m good to go.’
“I was like, ‘Hey, woah, we need you for the duration.’ But that’s the way he is. He wants to help the team win, he wants to pitch every day and it’s good to have a guy like that.”
Among all MLB relievers with at least 10 IP, Miller has the second-highest swinging strike percentage (19.6%). Having watched all the swings and misses he’s generating, Martinez said he had to see for himself.
Miller’s delivery, the way he turns his back to the mound as he gets started, makes him extremely hard to pick up.
“I think it’s deception,” Martinez said. “If you’re standing up there... I kind of wanted to see from a hitter’s angle what he does, and he’s got his back turned towards you as a right-handed hitter and the ball comes out of nowhere, so I think that’s a part of it.
“I think 40% of his fastballs go by hitters, they don’t make contact, so he’s done well.
“He’s made some unbelievable adjustments, and being able to come back and do what he does, he’s been incredible.”
Miller said he doesn’t plan on changing anything, though he may eventually have to if/when opposing hitters adjust. But not now.
“I’m not going to try to change anything,” he said.
“I’m just going to keep doing the same routine every single day. I’m in a good one right now so I’m just going to try to keep that up.”
His hard work is paying off, and his teammates have noticed.
“Man, yeah,” Ryan Madson said on Wednesday night.
“I’ve got to give credit to the scouts and whoever brought him over here, I don’t know who — obviously [GM Mike] Rizzo was part of it, and everybody else who suggested he come over here and pitch, because he’s gotten a lot of big outs, and he’s just having fun in the moment I think. He’s not thinking too much and just throwing his good stuff up there and good things are happening. So it’s fun to watch, it reminds everybody that these waves are there for everybody and he’s on a good one, and so we’re all enjoying it with him and hopefully it lasts the rest of the season.”