While the Washington Nationals’ relief corps, as a group, has struggled early this season, Justin Miller has tossed 3 2⁄3 scoreless so far, striking out six of the 14 batters he’s faced.
In Wednesday afternoon’s win over the Philadelphia Phillies, the right-hander gave Davey Martinez two strong innings in relief on 25 pitches, helping his manager out after Aníbal Sánchez was injured on a line drive back to the mound and lifted after four innings.
Matt Grace tossed a scoreless fifth, then Miller retired five of the six batters he faced in the sixth and seventh to spare Martinez from having to over-extend his already taxed bullpen.
A reporter said he’d rescued the Nationals from a difficult situation by giving the Nats two innings in a tough spot.
“Rescue is an understatement,” the manager said. “He was unbelievable. A testament to him, I asked him if he could go back out, he didn’t even hesitate, and he did a great job.”
The rest of the game didn’t go as well for Miller’s fellow relievers, with Tony Sipp, Trevor Rosenthal, and Kyle Barraclough combing to blow a 6-4 lead in the eighth inning of what ended up a 9-8 win.
In spite of the fact that he threw 25 pitches on Wednesday, Martinez turned to Miller again in Thursday’s game against the New York Mets in Citi Field. Miller retired two batters on 16 pitches, striking both out around a walk, and Sipp came on to strike Robinson Canó out to end inning before Sean Doolittle tossed a scoreless ninth in a non-save situation in the 4-0 win.
With Rosenthal, who was expected to be a set-up man for Doolittle, struggling out of the gate, Martinez gave Miller the eighth in what was a 2-0 game at that point.
Is that where Miller’s going to be working for now?
“He was really good, so come Saturday we’ll see what happens, but he’s pitching really well right now,” Martinez said.
Martinez said he didn’t have any concerns about using Miller two days in a row, even after the 25-pitch outing the previous day.
“He did it all year last year when we got him. We asked him to get one big out, we asked him to pitch three innings once, I mean, he’s that guy, he wants to pitch and if he’s available he wants to pitch.”
Miller finished the 2018 season with a 3.61 ERA, a 4.44 FIP, 17 walks (2.92 BB/9), 60 Ks (10.32 K/9), and a .214/.285/.420 line against in 52 1⁄3 IP.
He said this winter he was willing to work in any role the Nationals need him to fill.
“Just as long as it’s a role in the big leagues, that’s fine with me,” he joked.
Asked what he wanted to improve on in his second season in the Nationals’ bullpen, Miller said he wanted to limit the long balls.
“That was kind of a shocker for me. I usually don’t give up home runs and I gave up what? Ten last year? So try to cut that down.”
He hasn’t given up anything thus far, while that’s sure to change, Miller, who didn’t pitch in the majors at all in 2017, seems to have found a home in the Nationals’ bullpen.