While Shelby Miller has been fantastic in many ways, the Cardinals need a find a way to make him more efficient and quickly.
Otherwise his overly-stressful innings are going to wear him down before the end of the season and potentially threaten his career.
Miller has earned terrific results in the win column (8-4 record less than halfway through the season), in earned run average (2.08) and in strikeouts (96 against 19 walks). I have no complaints about his talent or even his control. But in every game he seems to run up his pitch count in short order. Because of it, he's putting unnecessary pressure on his arm and he's been unable to push deep into games.
The gem of Miller's season is his 113-pitch complete game shutout pitched May 10 against Colorado. But he's failed to pitch more than six innings in nine of his 14 starts despite throwing at least 92 pitches each appearance at least before Monday's game against Chicago.
In his that game, Miller managed only 83 pitches before he had to leave the game with a cramp in his calf. That probably can be attributed to him pitching extended innings in humid conditions at Busch Stadium. While it appears that the problem is minor, it put a good scare into the St. Louis crowd to see the trainer come out for a visit with the Cardinals' prized young pitcher.
Miller has gone through a couple of bouts this season in which hitters foul off pitch after pitch and that certainly serves to run up the count. But I believe its his approach that has the biggest impact on the number of pitches Miller throws.
Does he have Eduardo Sanchez disease in that he feels defeated if he doesn't strike out a batter? Is getting a ground ball to shortstop not good enough?
It's perplexing because catcher Yadier Molina is calling for pitches and he's an expert at handling pitchers and game situations. So one would think he'd do what he can to keep Miller in games.
When Miller gets into trouble, he's throwing strikes around 60 percent of the time. In his complete game, that number was over 70 percent. So that seems to be an indication that the problem is that he's nibbling around the strike zone instead of attacking hitters more directly.
Maybe Miller's just a little too effective for his own good in that batters are fouling off balls designed to be grounders to an infielder. I'm not sure. But, one way or another, his pitch count needs to come down if he's going to last this season and over the long term.
Manager Mike Matheny has done a good job of keeping Miller from over-extending himself. Trying to avoid a catastrophic arm injury like the one that marred Stephen Strasburg's rookie season, Matheny has held Miller to around the 100-pitch mark, regardless of the game situation or how bad the bullpen might be.
It was absolutely the right thing to do to yank Miller from his Monday start after he pulled his calf. Miller probably could have continued with such a minor injury. But let's not forget that Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean was the greatest hurler in the National League when he decided to try to pitch through a toe injury that ruined his arm and his career.
Miller's got the talent to be great. But he's got to take it easy on himself if he's going to stick around and realize his potential.