The Memphis Redbirds skipped Shelby Miller's last turn in the rotation to give him time to regain his composure and work on some mechanical changes after a disappointing first half of the season.
Miller spent the time regrouping and analyzing his starts in the video room. After all, he had never done anything but win in his baseball career.
MLB.com's No. 2 prospect allowed one hit -- a solo homer -- over five innings Wednesday night as Memphis edged the Albuquerque Isotopes, 3-2.
"It was a huge eye-opener. I've never really struggled in any other league or faced this adversity," Miller said. "I got together with my pitching coach and he told me to put it behind me and to just try and have a good second half.
"It helped with clearing my head of the first half and working on my mechanics -- looking at old film and working out what grips to use when and what leg kicks work best for me. I'm just trying to get it all together and making a solid effort to get my numbers where they should be."
Against Albuquerque, the Cardinals' top prospect was perfect the first time through the lineup, but Matt Angle homered to right field leading off the fourth to knot the game at 1-1.
Home runs have been Miller's Achilles' heel all year. Angle's blast was the 16th he's allowed in 15 Pacific Coast League contests. The 20-year-old right-hander has given up at least one longball in 11 starts, including one in each of his last seven.
"It could have been better. I had three great innings at first and then gave up the home run," said Miller, selected 19th overall in the 2009 Draft. "It was a bad pitch that I should not have thrown. It was a 3-1 fastball inside, and when you're in a hitter's count, you don't want to throw that. You just try to eliminate all of the bad stuff.
"That is how I have been beat all year -- it's been the home run, it's been the longball. I would walk a guy and give up a base hit to put two runners on base and then I would give up a homer and that would be three earned runs right there. I've not been going deep into games, and that's been a difference-maker."
In the fifth, Miller loaded the bases on a pair of walks and a hit batter, but he struck out Isotopes starter John Ely, retired Angle on a popup and fanned Alex Castellanos to end the threat and his night.
"I had a four-pitch walk, then I hit a guy going inside and then another walk out of the stretch," Miller said. "I wasn't in a groove throwing out of the stretch. I lost focus, I can't explain it. But I got the next three outs with the bases loaded and I felt really good."
The Texas native fanned eight, threw 50 of 87 pitches for strikes and lowerd his ERA to 5.70 without figuring in the decision. He remains 4-6 on the year and without a victory in seven starts since May 15.
"I had really good command of my fastball. That was the biggest thing for me," Miller said. "It was a righty lineup with seven right-handers, so I didn't throw my changeup much. There were only two lefties and I had only seen one of them three times, so there wasn't really situations to throw my changeup tonight. When the time was right, I threw it, but it was mainly curveball-fastball. I was able to throw my fastball down in the zone and I was hitting my spots with it."
After tossing six shutout innings against Colorado Springs six weeks ago, Miller's struggles intensified. He yielded at least three runs in each of his next six starts, including seven over 3 2/3 innings at Tucson on May 21 and seven more over 4 2/3 frames against New Orleans on June 16.
The difficulties are new to Miller, who fanned 140 over 104 1/3 innings with Class A Quad Cities in 2010 and combined to go 11-6 with a 2.77 ERA and 170 strikeouts over 139 2/3 frames a year ago.
Even in school, Miller cruised. He went 10-2 as a senior at Brownwood High School in Texas, throwing three straight no-hitters while making a name for himself as an All-State punter and All-District wide receiver.
"I've not been pitching that great this year," Miller admitted. "The biggest thing was throwing bad pitches in hitters' counts and leaving a cookie for them to hit. It's always been one bad pitch per game that makes my numbers look ugly. I just need to keep the ball down, hit my spots and work on my off-speed pitches when they need to be thrown."
Miller came to Spring Training, ready to compete for a spot in St. Louis' rotation. He posted an 8.31 ERA in two Grapefruit League starts, then lost his first two regular-season starts for Memphis. But he followed that with a stretch in which he was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA in six outings.
"I wouldn't be too disappointed if I didn't get called up this year. We have a great staff in the big leagues right now, but I want to pitch so good that they have no choice but to call me up. But my focus is on pitching my best at Triple-A. There are not many [21-year-old] guys pitching at Triple-A, so I'm blessed."
Jess Todd (1-1) ended up getting the win Wednesday, despite allowing one run on two hits over two innings.
Mark Hamilton was 2-for-3 with an RBI double and a run scored and Eugenio Velez contributed two hits, including his 10th homer, for the Redbirds.