Last month, for the first time in his career, Shelby Miller had to deal with off-the-field issues. On Friday, he proved that he's still a talented pitcher on it.
MLB.com's No. 5 prospect allowed two hits and two walks over eight scoreless innings, striking out nine, as the Double-A Springfield Cardinals beat the Tulsa Drillers, 3-0.
The outing was the longest for Miller (9-3) since June 15, when he also tossed eight shutout frames.
"My fastball, my curveball were great," he said. "I threw some left-handers changeups. Everything was really working, I put it all together. I was using my fastball, getting swings and misses, first-pitch curveball ground balls. It took me deep into the game."
The 20-year-old right-hander came out strong, retiring nine of the first 10 batters before Hector Gomez led off the fourth with a single to left. After Lars Davis lined a one-out single to right in the fifth, Miller set down 11 of his final 12 hitters.
"I'm going to give it all to my curveball. It helps with getting hitters a little uncomfortable in the box," he said. "Keeping the ball down, too, getting strikeouts and getting a lot of first-pitch swings. Getting them to put the ball in play early with offspeed stuff and my fastball, too. It's something to use for the future."
Selected 19th overall in the 2009 Draft, Miller was suspended for a week last month, allegedly because of two alcohol-related incidents at his Springfield-area apartment. He did not pitch between Aug. 10-23.
"Just being away from the team was tough," Miller said. "Missing a start, I didn't like that much. But I've learned a lesson. It taught me a lot of things as far as how to go about the game in all aspects. The Cardinals did it for a reason, and I learned a lesson and it won't happen again."
With Springfield eliminated from playoff contention, Miller's start on Friday was his last this summer. Looking back on his second full Minor League season, he said he learned a great deal about pitching and was particularly happy about the progression of his curveball.
"I'd been working with [pitching coach] Dennis Martinez to get my curveball where I wanted it to be in Palm Beach," Miller said. "When I got called up, pitching coach [Bryan Eversgerd] here was outstanding. He's helped me out in certain ways and, overall, helped me with my success in Double-A. Just this season in Double-A has helped me out so much in terms of staying positive and knowing I've got big league ability."
On the year, Miller went 11-6 with a 2.77 ERA and 170 strikeouts over 139 2/3 innings across two levels. Considering that success, it's not a stretch to think he could be a candidate for the Cardinals' big league rotation next year.
"I'm going into Spring Training thinking I am," Miller said. "I think I'm ready. I think if they give me a chance and I do good, I might have a shot. I'm going to go into Spring Training acting like I'm going to make it. Doing all the right things, performing and just trying to impress everybody. And, hopefully, they give me that opportunity."