Salk: Why Bryce Miller is Mariners’ best story of young season

Apr 19, 2024, 12:30 PM | Updated: Apr 21, 2024, 7:07 pm

Seattle Mariners Bryce Miller Reds...

Bryce Miller of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Reds in 2024. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The attention surrounding the Seattle Mariners’ elite starting rotation usually begins with their top-end trio of Luis Castillo, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert.

By the Numbers: Mariners pitching staff has righted the ship

Second-year starter Bryce Miller is quickly working his name into that mix.

Buoyed by the addition of a splitter and an improved sinker, the 25-year-old right-hander has posted a 1.85 ERA and 0.82 WHIP over his first four starts of the season. He’s been dominant over his past three starts, yielding only one earned run on seven hits in 19 1/3 innings. That included a gem in Wednesday’s 5-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds, when he retired 18 of 20 batters in a combined one-hitter.

During Friday’s edition of Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk, Mike Salk said Miller’s growth has been the best story of this young season for the Mariners.

“I don’t think it’s close,” Salk said. “It’s Bryce Miller. For me, by far the best Mariner development of the first three weeks has been the evolution of Bryce Miller. … He’s not pitching like a fourth starter so far this year. He’s pitching like a dominant kind of pitcher – another guy that you’re rolling out, one after another after another.”

Miller made his major league debut on May 2 last year and experienced early success with his electric four-seam fastball and a good slider. However, opposing hitters caught on as the season progressed. Without an adequate mix of secondary pitches, Miller finished with the year with a 4.32 ERA – including a 5.31 ERA over his final 20 starts.

Miller especially struggled against left-handed hitters, who slashed .303/.358/.558 off him last season.

“Into the end of last year, there were some concerns about Bryce Miller,” Salk said. “… He had some trouble putting away hitters, especially lefties, because he just didn’t have a legit way to get them out. The two-seamer was iffy. There was no real changeup that was working, specifically against lefties.

“And so you head into this year and there was a lot of debate: Do you trade Bryce Miller? Do you trade Bryan Woo? Who’s gonna be the better pitcher? Or does one move to the bullpen if you were to sign somebody? And the consensus was if someone’s moving to the bullpen, it’s probably gonna be Bryce Miller.”

Miller spent the offseason improving his pitch mix, adding a splitter and a revamped sinker to his arsenal.

The results have been lights-out.

Miller has allowed just three hits – all singles – on the 70 splitters he’s thrown this season, according to Statcast. The new pitch has produced a 33.3% whiff rate and eight strikeouts in 24 plate appearances.

Miller’s sinker has improved dramatically, with opponents hitting just .111 against the pitch this season after hitting .260 against it last year.

And that problem against lefty hitters? Miller has limited lefties to just a .109/.196/.261 slash line this season, while striking them out at a 25.5% rate.

“We’ve talked about this before: Always try to enhance your strengths rather than fix your weaknesses, unless you have a fatal flaw,” Salk said. “And that’s the key thing there. Getting lefties out was a fatal flaw. It was gonna potentially keep Bryce Miller from being a dominant starter – and maybe a starter at all – long-term. There was a possibility he was going to become a bullpen arm if he doesn’t fix that, essentially. And he did.

“He goes from being potentially a two-pitch reliever to being a four- or five-pitch starter,” Salk added. “It’s a huge difference. It’s a humongous difference. A guy who’s now coming at you with a four-seam fastball, a sinker that can get lefties out and get guys to roll over, and then both the slider and the splitter. Now you’re a complete starting pitcher who can get righties and lefties out.”

Listen to the full conversation from Friday’s Brock and Salk in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

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