The second half of the Major League Baseball season is still a week away, but St. Louis Cardinals rookie right-handed starting pitcher Shelby Miller is throwing as if the calendar is about to turn to September, not July.
Miller had the worst outing of his brief career Friday when he gave up five runs in 1.2 innings in a 6-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics, which continued a downward trend that suggests Miller could use a few extra days off as the regular season reaches its midpoint.
Miller had a sensational start to the season. He won five of his first seven starts, including a one-hit, complete-game shutout in a 3-0 win May 10 over the Colorado Rockies. He followed that with a five consecutive quality starts to establish a 7-3 record with a 1.91 earned-run average that earned him a prominent spot on the Major League Baseball pitching leaderboards.
Then reality started to set in. The weather warmed up as Miller crossed the 80-inning plateau in early June, he has given up four or more runs in fewer than six innings in three of his last four starts and his ERA has risen to 2.79, which has him tied for the 17th best ERA in baseball with the man who beat the Cardinals on Friday, Bartolo Colon.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals are still one solid pitcher short of living close to Easy Street in terms of how to work their starting rotation. The team could’ve given Miller some additional off days in the past two weeks if left-handed starter Jaime Garcia hadn’t had to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery in May.
With four off days between June 24 and July 8, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny could’ve set the rotation in a way that would’ve had Miller start maybe twice during that stretch. However, Matheny has had to use that strategy with the No. 5 spot in the rotation after lefty starter Tyler Lyons faltered and dropped back to pitch for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds June 22 after four straight poor starts in June.
Right-hander Joe Kelly replaced Lyons in that role, but he won’t make his first replacement start until July 6 because off all the off days. If Garcia hadn’t gotten hurt, the Cardinals could’ve put Miller in Kelly’s spot and given him some much-needed rest before the All-Star Break that begins July 15.
But that’s life in Major League Baseball. Part of the challenge for teams is how to navigate a six-month, 162-game schedule when players get hurt.
Thankfully, the schedule continues to offer the Cardinals a chance to lighten Miller’s workload before the All-Star Break. With off days the next two Mondays, Miller will likely make just two more starts before the break, and then he’ll have the four days of the break to rest, as well, assuming he doesn’t make the All-Star Team for the National League.
He probably would’ve been named an All-Star if they game had been played in mid-June instead of mid-July, but his numbers have dropped enough now that others will likely get the call ahead of him.
That’s OK. He needs the break, and the Cardinals dearly need him to be good in the second half of the season in what is shaping up to be one heck of a battle with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds.
The Cardinals had 11 scheduled off days in the first half of the season but will only get five after the All-Star Break, so Miller and all of the Cardinals young pitchers will likely be pushed to the limit down the stretch in the heat of the pennant race.
With that intense schedule ahead, it is vital for the Cardinals to get their young players rest while they can, or the team’s incredibly fast start could become a distance memory if the Pirates and Reds end up as the NL Central Division playoff representatives.