SEATTLE — The doubters found reasons to try and couch the success of Bryce Miller’s first big-league start, saying domination came against the abysmal Oakland A’s, who might be one of the worst teams in the last 30 years of Major League Baseball.
There was mention that Miller pitched with about 1,000 fans, most of them cheering for the Mariners, in attendance at the decaying crypt known as Oakland Coliseum, instead of the pressure that comes with a full stadium of fans.
Well, what is there to say now?
In his second MLB outing and his home debut, Miller showed the same easy-going poise on the mound as he did in Oakland, shutting down the team he grew up watching as a kid in Mount Pleasant, Texas, and a college athlete at Texas A&M in front of 42,277 fans — the third largest crowd at T-Mobile this season.
On a Sunday afternoon that felt like spring, the rookie right-hander delivered another brilliant outing against the defending World Series champion Houston Astros, tossing six scoreless innings to lead the Mariners to a 3-1 victory.
The Mariners took the three-game series vs. Houston and have won six of their past seven games, improving to 17-17 on the season, which is the same record as the Astros.
“We play the Astros so much and teams go through different things at different times of the year,” manager Scott Servais said. “They’re a little banged up. We’ve got a few guys out, too. But I thought we played really good baseball all weekend. And outside of late home run in game one, we’re right there.”
Using his four-seam fastball predominantly, Miller allowed just two hits with a walk and five strikeouts while earning his first career win. Of his 85 pitches, 60 were fastballs. He got eight swings and misses and eight called strikes on his heater.
Miller success is based on his talent and execution, not his opponent.
“I commented after his last start that I don’t care who you’re pitching against, when you go out and dominate and have that type of life and that kind of movement on your pitches, you’re gonna have success,” Servais said. “We saw it today against a very experienced team.”
Facing a team with dangerous fastball hitters, Miller wouldn’t be intimidated.
“I’ll have the offspeed, but right now it’s prove that they can hit it before I stray away from it,” he said.
Admittedly, facing the defending champions was different. He watched so many games on television.
“That’s the team I’ve grown up watching, so it was definitely exciting,” he said. “I was excited and a little bit nervous. The second batter of the game, when Bregman walked in there, he’s someone I’ve been watching the last few years. I had a couple of moments before the game started where I was able to kind of look around and take in the scene. But once I got out there and was on the mound, it was just another game.”
In his first two MLB starts, Miller has allowed one earned run in 12 innings with one walk and fifteen strikeouts. Opponents are batting just .103 against him. He’s the first pitcher in team history to pitch at least six innings and allow one run or fewer in each of his first two career MLB starts.
“Bryce Miller, pretty awesome,” Servais said. “He continues to do his thing. It’s very impressive. We’ve gotten spoiled with Logan (Gilbert) and Georgia (Kirby) recently, but what Bryce Miller has done and added to our rotation has just been awesome. Very aggressive, ton of confidence. He’s not backing off.”
The Mariners didn’t lack for scoring opportunities over the first six innings against Astros starter Brandon Bielak but still only produced three runs. A baserunning mistake by Ty France in the first inning and costly strikeouts with runners in scoring position were the primary issues.
Julio Rodriguez put the Mariners on the board in the third inning with a much-needed swing and result.
After walking in his first plate appearance against Bielak, Rodriguez sat on a 2-2 slider and pummeled it into the populated area known as The ‘Pen. The solo blast had a 111-mph exit velocity and traveled 454 feet.
“It felt great, obviously,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been kind of overdue for it. It’s a build up to it. To be able to hit that for the team against a great team too, it’s always gonna gonna bring a lot of emotions out of me.”
It was Rodriguez’s first homer since April 26 in Philadelphia. Since that last home run, he’d had 34 plate appearances with four hits, two walks and 11 strikeouts while also missing three games with back soreness.