This was not how the season was supposed to go for Shelby Miller
Players who are ranked as the No. 3 prospect in all of the Minor Leagues are not supposed to get battered around.
They are not supposed to take it on the chin in start after start.
Miller, who also ranks as the Cardinals' top prospect, has gone 4-4 with a 5.18 ERA in 12 starts for the Memphis Redbirds. He was a combined 11-6 with a 2.77 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A Springfield and Class A Advanced Palm Beach last season.
"It's simple, I'm giving up home runs. That's what it's been," Miller said. "That's the really the difference-maker. I've already given up 12 and last year I gave up four.
"I was looking at it earlier, I've given up nine earned runs in my last two starts and eight of them are due to home runs."
Miller said the majority of home runs have come off his fastball in hitters' counts.
"My fastball doesn't really get swung and missed at as much as it was in the lower levels," Miller said. "It's more fouled off. I can throw four of them in a row and it gets fouled off. Eventually the pitch count is going to rise up and I'm going to throw five innings instead of six or seven."
Miller struck out 170 batters in 139 2/3 innings last season and this year he has 63 in 57 1/3, but none of the strikeouts have come as easy in the PCL. He has completed six innings only twice in his last 10 outings.
"That's obviously something we've addressed, (but) you don't really notice it until you keep consistently having short and bad starts," he said.
Memphis manager Ron Warner said it has been tough for Miller to go away from wanting to strike everyone out and instead forcing hitters to put the ball in play.
"We preach pitch-to-contact, so we're not so much concerned about strikeouts and him getting swings and misses," Warner said. "We want him to put it in a good spot, keep it down and get ground balls, keep his pitch count down so he can go deep into games."
Despite the results, Miller has not allowed his struggles to devour all of his confidence.
"Hopefully my next (start) will turn it around," he said. "I think all I need is one momentum changer for my year so far. I think if I get one good start, I've had a couple good ones, but if I have one really good start and I go deep, I think that will boost my confidence a bit more and get the ball rolling."
Miller will get his chance today when he starts the Redbirds' series opener against the visiting Nashville Sounds.
Trouble brewing: Miller is hardly the only pitching prospect struggling in the PCL as Brewers No. 1 prospect Wily Peralta can attest to. The right-hander has gone 1-7 with a 6.60 ERA in 12 starts for Nashville, prompting Milwaukee to dispatch Minor League pitching instructor Lee Tunnel and player development director Reid Nichols to watch him. Peralta allowed three runs in six innings against Iowa on Thursday, not factoring into the decision after five straight losses.
Gone streaking: The RedHawks set a team record Thursday when they defeated New Orleans, 9-5, for their 14th straight victory in Oklahoma City. The RedHawks had lost three of four in Albuquerque before coming home and reeling off nine consecutive wins starting May 29 to add on to the five straight home wins from May 10-15. Alas, both streaks ended Friday at the hands of the Zephyrs, who prevailed 6-1.
Healthy Heath: Fresno closer Heath Hembree has had a rough year (5.06 ERA), but contracting strep throat, losing eight pounds and missing five days of action recently made things even worse. Hembree bounced back Friday night, retiring the side in order to earn his ninth save as the Grizzlies beat Las Vegas, 5-4. It was his first appearance since giving up three runs in one inning of a 7-1 loss to Salt Lake on June 2.
Chris Jackson is a contributor to MLB.com.