Losing the opening game of the 2014 season in front of a international audience wasn’t what any of us wanted. The Dodgers winning the opening game of the 2014 season is a close second. I’m just going to say it now so I don’t have to later: I can’t stand those guys. Moving on, perhaps the thing that we should take away from game one is the dominance shown by Wade Miley.
We all know that Patrick Corbin’s injury left a void. It wasn’t a void in a physical sense given that the Diamondbacks could just hand the ball to someone else instead, but it was a void in the sense that it left Arizona searching for an Opening Day starter. Wade Miley, c’mon down!
Lost in the score of the game was Miley’s dominance. Wild Wade was not only rocking the mullet strong in Major League Baseball’s Australia debut, but he had the mojo going, too. He threw 65% of his pitches for strikes, which isn’t overwhelming on it’s own. But what is overwhelming is the fact that he struck out eight Dodgers in only five innings. Using the Baseball Reference Play Index, this is his highest strikeout/innings pitched ratio of his career.
As you’re likely well aware, Wade Miley is known as anything but a “strikeout pitcher.” That isn’t to say that he can’t strike batters out in multiples on occasion, however. Back in 2012, Miley struck out ten in 7.2 innings during a loss to the Rockies. In that same season, he struck out nine while tossing 7 innings during a 12-3 romp of the Astros. Previously, Miley had struck out eight on five separate occasions, but in each of those starts, he threw a minimum of 6 innings. For what it’s worth, the Diamondbacks won four of those games and lost the fifth by a score of 1-0 to the Rangers. It’s safe to say that when he, or any other starter for that matter, is on and has the stuff working, it bodes well for the entire team.
So what was the key for Wade? Fastball command got it all started. It sounds cliche, but the fastball is still the most important pitch in the game, especially for pitchers that lack a true, knockout, secondary pitch. Such is the case for Mr. Miley, so he’s forced to throw the heater (if you can call it that at 88mph) and use multiple looks off of that pitch to keep hitters guessing. His slider comes out of the same arm slot and gets hitters thinking fastball before the ball dives down and to the right. Once hitters were expecting the secondary offering when they’re behind in the count, Miley switched it up and started going to the fastball away, adding yet another element of surprise. He mixed in a couple of changeups and curves, too, but largely was a two-pitch pitcher on Saturday, throwing the fastball 62.7% and the slider 32.5% of the time (note: PITCHf/x aren’t available for the Australia games).
Take a minute, okay, a minute and a half, and check out Wade’s highlights from the season opener. He made some excellent pitches, but perhaps the most enjoyable aspect is watching Yasiel Puig look foolish on multiple occasions, my favorite being when he swings right over a slider that he’s convinced is a fastball over the middle just before it breaks towards his back foot.
The swing that beat Miley was a home run to the opposite field that cleared the fence by what looks like six inches. If that ball falls three feet shorter, Parra snags it for a loud out, but as the Australian air would have it, the play went down as a 2-run homer. Yes, it was a fastball up and away, but a lot of guys take that pitch or spoil it foul. Van Slyke put a good swing on it and it just stayed fair by a foot or two and cleared the fence by even less. It was more of a nice piece of hitting than it was a mistake by Miley.
A strong outing for the Diamondbacks to start the season was just what the doctor ordered. With a rotation that was just unsettled due to Corbin’s elbow, Miley has the capacity to be a stabilizing force. It was a strong start for the team to build on and despite the eventual outcome, he kept the team in the game while showing some surprising swing-and-miss stuff. Maybe Dodger hitters just weren’t prepared for Wild Wade or maybe this strikeout thing is here to stay. If it is, you may just be looking at Arizona’s new number one pitcher.
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