Mystery Solved? Shelby Miller and His Shoulder

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

There was no cause of frustration in the Cardinal blogosphere this fall quite as big as that surrounding Shelby Miller's disappearance in the postseason. Despite having superior numbers to those of several pitchers, Miller was not tagged to start. Even more bizarre, Miller made only a handful of postseason appearances as a reliever. A recent interchange on Derrick Goold's Cardinals chat may finally shed some light on this question.

Shelby Miller didn't start a single game in the postseason in 2013. He only made a single relief appearance for one inning.

Nobody outside the club could add much more than speculation to Miller's apparent underusage in the postseason. Was Miller on an innings count? Out of favor? Injured? Did he have dead arm? No one could quite make sense of it. And no one in the club was talking. The official line was that the club was holding Miller in reserve as a long man. Yet Miller wasn't getting used as a long man.

Eventually, one just had to accept that there was clearly a story to which the ordinary fan was not party and hope that someday the story would break. Well, it did, sort of.

Derrick Goold's weekly chat (which are clearly not to be missed, and often more substantive and less snarky than its precursor was) revealed that Shelby revealed to the Cardinals that he was  "dealing with a shoulder soreness at the beginning of September. . . ."

Reaction One: Phew. At least we have an answer that makes some sense. We no longer have to debate from ignorance about whose guess is most educated.

Reaction Two: Wait, one of our top pitchers reported shoulder soreness?!? Has anybody taken a look inside that shoulder? Is his capsule intact? Is this soreness that gets better with rest or with rotator cuff surgery? There's been no public follow-up from the club, so it's impossible to say whether Miller's sore shoulder was just muscular (and thus likely to heal itself) or if it was structural.

Reaction Three: Why the secrecy? Everybody could see that Miller wasn't pitching. I suppose during the postseason there was some thought that Miller might end up being a part of a trade for a high-end shortstop before the trade market proved too costly. It's hard to believe that a team would trade for Miller when he mysteriously didn't show up in the postseason without making some independent medical inquiries, but I suppose openly discussing his shoulder soreness might have tamped down the market for him.

The reporting on the controversy was very strange. Following Goold's offhand comment in the chat, he denied in a now-deleted tweet that the story was news at all, claiming that Miller's shoulder problems had been reported back when they arose in September. A search of the media during that time reveals absolutely no discussion of any shoulder problems.

In fact, as recently as October 31, Goold covered the controversy over Miller's nonappearance in the postseason, repeating the organization's story that Miller was being held in reserve as a longman, whose opportunity for long relief simply never arose. In fact, that same article reported that Miller was specifically denying any such discomfort:

Miller insisted that his elbow and his shoulder were fine, and that he hasn’t been limited in his workouts or preparation during the postseason. Miller was not told of any innings limit that he reached.

"There could be something that I don’t know about going on," Miller said. "Maybe I’ll have some understanding in the offseason. I think it’s more they’re just looking out for me, innings-wise. I don’t feel fatigued. I don’t feel tired. I feel really good. There is probably some answer that I don’t know about. I’ll wait to hear it."

I don't understand why Goold is reporting Miller's shoulder injury as if we have always been at war with Eastasia. Maybe the club wanted to release the information quietly and without fanfare, over a holiday? Maybe Goold accidentally released info he was privy to but wasn't supposed to tell? Maybe he legitimately forgot that the shoulder injury was not published as news? I'd like to believe the latter, but the Miller injury was so heavily discussed and disputed, and Goold published multiple columns stating that Miller's absence in the post-season was NOT related to health concerns.

At any rate, the club should give some clear answers on whether Miller has gotten any follow-up care or screening. I am slightly concerned about Miller's long-term health, because he previously complained of shoulder soreness in spring training and missed a start or two. Now that Miller's likelihood of inclusion in a trade has diminished with Peralta's arrival, it wouldn't hurt to have some kind of public openness about the fairly important topic of Miller's shoulder. If Miller's shoulder was just tired, we should know. If he's had an MRI and been cleared, we should know. If he's questionable for spring training, we should know.

I'm assuming that we aren't looking at the worst case scenario for Shelby, since serious injury to Miller (on top of a dicey Jaime Garcia and a delayed Jason Motte) would presumably have prompted a more serious push for at least some insurance on the pitching front, including a stronger push to retain John Axford. But if there is any bad news, the fanbase shouldn't discover it at spring training.

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This post will be my last post for Viva El Birdos. Someone else should have the opportunity to write for you under new editorial leadership while the blog is in transition. I am happy to make my own choice about how and when to leave my role.

I was very flattered to be selected by Dan to write for you once a week. I have deeply enjoyed my time with you guys. It's a pleasure to write for a smart audience and to have your writing reviewed and replied to intelligently. You all create together a fantastic community of smart, funny people. I hope you have enjoyed reading my posts half as much as I enjoyed writing them.

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