While spring training is a time for mastering one’s game, there is also a reasonable timetable. That window could be divided into two sections. One is getting into shape for the baseball marathon ahead, and the second portion deals with refinement.
It’s also a time to develop the essential mental approach. That did not appear to be on Shelby Miller’s initial agenda Sunday. With two more starts likely in spring training, Miller is at the point where numbers may give way to an acute stage of preparation. When the Diamondbacks staked the right-hander to a six-run, first inning advantage against the Reds Sunday, Miller’s mound command and presence appeared absent.
Instead of heightening his concentration level and developing a strong, mental approach, Miller seem to implode. Then, a change for the better.
First, he fielded Billy Hamilton’s bunt to the right of the mound, but threw beyond Joaquin Arias, the first baseman, for a two-base error. Miller then walked two and immediately faced a bases-loaded situation with no outs. A ground out from Jay Bruce and a double from catcher Devin Mesoraco scored three in the bottom of the first, and Miller’s huge lead was sliced in half. Like any good pitcher, Miller made important adjustments, and over the final four innings of his outing, he allowed only three base runners.
“At the start, I think I was trying to be too fine and too exact,” Miller said. “I was rushing too early. The error was costly and then I walked those two. Anytime your team scores that many in the first, that should be a shut-down inning. I didn’t do that, and that was disappointing.”
The sign of a productive pitcher is their ability to make in-game adjustments. Miller was able to overcome a shaky first inning, and made proper adjustments. For his effort, Miller went five innings, yielded only three hits, three runs but all unearned, walked three and struck out six batters.
“After the first inning, Shelby, (pitching coach Mike Butcher) and (catcher Tuffy Gosewisch) talked on the bench and ironed out a few things,” Hale said afterward. “Shelby is a perfectionist, and the way he came back was very impressive. In fact, our entire pitching staff is athletic, and that’s always a big help.”
For the game, the Diamondbacks broke out of the gate with a vengeance. Jumping on Reds’ starter Brandon Finnegan for six, first-inning runs, the frame was powered by a two-run homer off the bat of Phil Gosselin and a timely RBI double from Yasmany Tomas.
In the end, the Diamondbacks settled for a 9-3 victory over the Reds before 8,036 in Goodyear Ballpark. The crowd was the largest for a Cincinnati home game in Goodyear this spring.
The victory increased Arizona’s spring mark to 16-4-1 with 14 pre-season games to play. This includes one split squad day on March 27 for games at Salt River against the Colorado and against the Rangers in Surprise.
NEARING DECISION TIME
Before Sunday’s game with the Cincinnati Reds in Goodyear, manager Chip Hale refined the process of determining the fifth starter. Acknowledging left-hander Robbie Ray has the inside tract, there are also others in the mix, he said.
With a poor outing against the Cubs a few days ago, righty Archie Bradley may have taken a step back. Conversely, right-hander Tyler Wagner, who went five strong innings against Seattle Saturday, drew the praise.
“(Wagner’s) change was devastating, and he showed real command of the mound,” Hale said. “Everyone in the mix has shown something.”
When pitchers and catchers gathered at Salt River over a month ago, Ray told reporters the fifth starter was, “my job to lose.” Now a month later, Hale seem to agree with that assessment, and added, “that’s probably a good way to put it.”
The Diamondbacks return to Salt River for a night game Monday (6:40 p.m.) against the Milwaukee Brewers. Left-hander Patrick Corbin gets the start and righty Josh Hadrer goes for Milwaukee. The Diamondbacks return immediately back under the lights Tuesday night against the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium (7:10 p.m. start).