It’s been a season full of tests for Dodgers rookie Bobby Miller.
On Wednesday night, his latest one came from a familiar face.
With two on and no outs in the third inning at Dodger Stadium, Miller threw an up-and-in, 98.8 mph fastball that clipped the shoulder of Detroit‘s Zach McKinstry — the former Dodgers prospect traded away last year.
That loaded the bases for the Tigers, who already had a one-run lead in their eventual 4-2 defeat of the Dodgers.
The real challenge, however, came as McKinstry walked toward first base, trading words with Miller in the kind of emotional exchange that has sometimes gotten the best of the 24-year-old right-hander this season.
McKinstry, who also ducked an up-and-in fastball in his first at-bat, appeared to angrily reprimand Miller, telling him to “keep the ball down” and “that’s twice” he had a pitch thrown near his face.
Miller snapped right back, seemingly telling McKinstry to “shut the f— up” and that the pitch wasn’t intentional.
“Obviously it wasn’t on purpose,” Miller reiterated after the game. “But I’m not here to make him feel comfortable in the box.”
It wasn’t the first time Miller’s smoldering intensity flared up on the mound. The first-round pick previously flashed frustration at himself for bad pitches, umpires for bad calls and sometimes no one in particular amid bouts of bad luck.
One of his biggest goals over the season has been to better control his emotions in such moments. And as McKinstry slowly took his base, Miller tried to quickly lock back in.
“Some deep breaths,” he said. “Calm myself down.”
For the most part, he did.
Miller got a couple assists in the next at-bat, when Tigers slugger Spencer Torkelson first pulled a potential grand slam just foul, then hit a line drive in the gap that was snared by center fielder James Outman with a spectacular, diving catch.
“That was unreal,” Miller said. “I thought that was going in the gap or over his head, but at this point you can never doubt the man out there. He’s saved me a lot of runs this year.”
After that sacrifice fly, Miller retired the next 11 in a row to complete a six-inning, two-run outing, racking up seven strikeouts while giving up only three hits to get his ERA back under 4.00 at 3.97).
“A pitcher isn’t going to have his best stuff every time out and today it was clear that the secondary, he didn’t really have a feel for it,” manager Dave Roberts said. “But for him to go six innings, give up two runs and give us a chance to win, that’s all we can ask for right there.”
It still wasn’t enough — not on a night the lineup mustered only one run and two hits off Detroit starter Reese Olson in six innings; the bullpen surrendered a couple of late runs charged to Ryan Brasier and Evan Phillips; and the home fans were more captivated by the skies above the outfield, where a large, floating bubble paused the game in the third inning before a flying goose awed the crowd in the seventh.
In the bigger picture, though, Miller’s steady performance was another encouraging sign from the young pitcher, who is likely to start one of the team’s first two playoff games next month, Roberts reiterated before the game.
“I feel very ready,” Miller said when asked about potentially making a postseason start. “I got the guys here that have had a lot of experience there. So I’ve been asking those guys some questions here and there, on how they go about it. I feel really ready.”