SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Mariners’ Bryce Miller armed with new ways to get lefties out

Feb 7, 2024, 11:19 AM | Updated: 12:49 pm

Seattle Mariners Bryce Miller...

Bryce Miller of the Seattle Mariners pitches against Texas in 2023. (Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

(Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

Life comes at you fast when you are a rookie starter.

One moment you are striking out 10 and walking none in your franchise-best debut, four starts later find yourself the first pitcher since at least 1901 to go at least six innings and allow four hits or fewer in each of his first five career appearances. And then the next moment, it is the end of the season and you have compiled a 5.31 ERA in the 20 starts since your debut.

Now there were gems – most notably the 6 1/3 innings of scoreless, two-hit ball at Houston in mid-August, and the five shutout innings against the Dodgers in September. But there were also struggles.

What there wasn’t with Seattle Mariners right-hander Bryce Miller, or at least didn’t appear to be, was frustration. What you did see from Miller in his postgame media sessions following rocky starts were long and insightful breakdowns. You could see the wheels turning – he knew what he needed to do. Unfortunately, the changes he needed to make were not changes that could be made in the middle of the season at the big league level.

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An offseason was needed, and by all indications, Bryce Miller has made the most of his.

While Miller’s experience in 2023 gave him confidence that his stuff plays in the big leagues, as time went on it also exposed the soft spots in his game. Known for having a wide array of pitches, notably multiple sliders coming in, Miller learned as big league hitters made adjustments that he didn’t quite have the arsenal he thought he did, particularly against lefties.

“At the end of the season last year, I had five pitches I was throwing to righties, down to two against the lefties,” Miller told Mariners broadcasters Rick Rizzs and Gary Hill on Tuesday’s Hot Stove on Seattle Sports.

Miller was not going to throw a two-seamer to lefties and was having problems with both the sweeper and changeup. With only a fastball and gyro slider to attack with, he knew he was vulnerable.

“When I’m 70% heater, it’s a pretty easy guessing game,” he said.

Opposing managers reacted accordingly, running out as many lefties they could against Miller. Though he limited righties to a .200/.234/.315 slash (.549 OPS), he allowed a line of .303/.358/.558 (.917) to the lefties. He knew there were adjustments to be made and perhaps a pitch to be added. Having watched fellow Mariners starter Logan Gilbert and George Kirby find success adding a splitter the year previous, he took a closer look at the pitch and realized it had the potential to serve him better than the changeup.

“It’s really hard for me to get inside and really pronate a changeup, whereas the splitter I just stay behind it and throw it like a heater,” he explained. “It’s something I am not going to have to drop my slot. It is something I can throw from my four-seam fastball slot and hopefully the bottom drops out and they swing over it.”

Miller went to work on the pitch this winter, splitting his time between the Dynamic Sports Training performance center in Houston and at his alma mater Texas A&M, where former Mariners pitching guru Max Weiner is now pitching coach. Offseason work today for a pitcher is much different now than it was even 10 years ago thanks to the and technological advances and data they provide. Whereas in years past a pitcher could work all winter on a new pitch and have little idea if it would play against actual competition, today they have Trackman and other data to show them exactly what the pitch is doing.

“If it is below 6 (inches) induced vertical break and moving armside, I think it’s going to play,” Miller said of the splitter, noting the clips he has posted on social media were the best of his bullpens. “The main thing I am trying to do is throw it like a fastball, the same release height I am looking for.”

Finding a comp that he can study, both the pitch itself and its usage, has also aided in adding the pitch. Miller is working to model his splitter after two-time All-Star Kevin Gausman’s.

“Gausman throws his at 88 mph, around 6 (inches vertical break) and 15 horizontal,” said Miller “I feel like if I am in a January bullpen and lower intent and I can do that it, should play pretty well in the midseason.”

While the pitch appears to be coming along nicely, Miller wisely is keeping his early expectations in check.

“I’m not going to go out and just rip a bunch of splits in spring training,” he said. “As much as I want to, I’ve got to keep the usage down on it just because I want to make 32 starts this year. I think you will probably see as the season goes on, assuming the pitch is what I think it is, the usages will increase month by month. Just to get the elbow, forearm and everything used to the new stress on the arm.”

In addition to adding the splitter, Miller has also focused on improving his sweeper, a pitch that batters hit .300 against last year.

“This year, the only thing I am thinking with that is throw it as hard as I can from the fastball spot and it’s going to be more slurvy, more depthy,” he said. “It’s kind of similar I am hoping to a right-handed version of Cole Ragans curveball. It’s a pretty horizontal curveball but it’s going to look more like a heater and I think it is going to play a lot better. Last year it was 79-80 mph and I am hoping it can be 83-84 from the same slot.”

Last season, Miller’s changeup and sweeper came out of a lower armslot. If he can throw the new splitter and the reworked sweeper from the same armslot as his fastball, it will be a different look for opposing hitters – particularly the lefties.

“I think it is going to allow me to throw all my pitches to righties and lefties,” he said. “It will also be interesting to see how the four-seam plays off everything else when the hitters aren’t sitting only fastball. Because the back half of last year I was 60-70% fastball, ideally this year if I am 50% fastball, 20% split, 20% slider, 10% slurve (sweeper), the heater is really going to play better.”

Miller, who is now in Arizona along with a number of his Mariners teammates, is excited to take the next step in the progression with his work. Friday he will get his first look at his new and reworked pitches in action as he is scheduled to throw his first live batting practice of the offseason.

Listen to the show

The Mariners Hot Stove airs from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday nights leading up to spring training on Seattle Sports 710 AM or streaming at SeattleSports.com and the Seattle Sports app. You can listen to podcasts of the full show after it airs at this link or on the app.

To hear Hour 1 from this week’s show, find the player near the top of this post or click here.

For Hour 2, which includes visits with Seattle Mariners assistant general manager Andy McKay, highly-ranked prospect Harry Ford, senior director of analytics Joel Firman, and Nova Newcomer of the Mariners Care Foundation, click here or listen in the player below.

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