Say what you want about the win's usefulness as a means of measuring a pitcher's performance. Jarrett Miller was happy to pick up his first "W" of the season for Class A Advanced Lynchburg on Saturday.
"I needed that," Miller said after the Hillcats' 3-2 victory at Wilmington. "I needed the confidence-boost from tonight."
The Braves prospect had a lot to do with the favorable outcome. Miller piled up a career-high 12 strikeouts across seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits without issuing any walks. He lowered his ERA from 5.14 to 4.11 in his first-ever outing with double-digit strikeouts.
"I feel like I had a better feel with my pitches than I did in the past few games," Miller said. "The curveball finally came back to me. The changeup, we kept down.
"We got some great plays with [shortstop] Daniel Castro and [third baseman] Kevin Ahrens out in the field. That kept me in the game. Anytime you keep the ball down and you get ground balls and the defense plays well behind you, it's probably going to be a good outing."
Miller (1-3) threw 64 of 91 pitches for strikes. His sticky spots came in the third, when he allowed a single and threw a wild pitch, and the fourth, when he yielded a couple of singles. But the Blue Rocks were unable to scratch out a run against the 2011 21st-round Draft pick.
The 24-year-old right-hander struck out the side in the fourth and fifth and retired his final 10 batters. The outing was his first without a walk since May 19, 2013, his first season with Lynchburg.
"He had a good breaking ball working," Wilmington manager Darryl Kennedy said. "He had a really good curveball. He was able to throw it for strikes when he wanted to. He was able to bury it when he wanted to. He spotted his fastball. The kid pitched a really good game."
Miller has 32 strikeouts against 12 walks over 35 innings. The seven-inning outing on Saturday marked a season high, while the three hits he allowed were a season low.
"Me and the catcher (Joseph Odom) were on the same page," Miller said. "Every pitch that he called I agreed with and threw with conviction. We attacked early in the count ... and so we can extend the strike zone after that. But the pitch that was working was the curveball. We'd get ahead, fastball up or curveball down in the dirt and luckily, we just got some swings and misses."
In addition to the catcher in front of him and the fielders behind him, Miller praised Hillcats pitching coach Derrick Lewis, who helped the right-hander with his mechanics between this start and the one that preceded it. Against Carolina on May 5, Miller was charged with seven runs in five innings.
"[We practiced] just staying on my shoulder, staying on my line going to home plate and attacking early," Miller said. "Last outing, I tried to spot the ball early. I'd miss, just down, but I'd miss and then you have to come over the plate in a hitter's count. We're in professional baseball, so what a professional hitter is going to do, when you throw a fastball in a hitter's count, it's going to get hit hard somewhere."
The Blue Rocks weren't able to do much of that until Miller's exit. Eric Pfisterer went out for the eighth and was removed after handing out two free passes. Nate Hyatt walked another batter before serving up a two-run double to Raul Mondesi, Kansas City's No. 2 prospect.
Hyatt maintained the lead, however, inducing a couple double-play grounders as he recorded a two-inning save, his first of the year.
And Miller, a reliever-turned-starter, got the win he deserved.
"It was his day," Mondesi said. "He was 0-3, but today was his day. He had a good start. He was mixing his pitches. He's got a good fastball, good changeup, good curveball. He was mixing them really good."
Ahrens hit a solo homer in the eighth for Lynchburg, while Castro and David Nick singled in runs in the fourth and fifth, respectively. The Hillcats' Jose Peraza stole three bases and leads the Carolina League with 18 on the season.