First, some niceness: Shelby Miller was pretty awesome last night. In fact, last night's performance from Shelby may be one of my very favourites we've seen from the kid all season. Not because of the results, although those were pretty impressive too; six shutout innings on just three hits is nothing to sneeze at. It certainly looked like the extra time off helped Miller out, though maybe that's just me building a narrative where I want one.
Actually, the reason I liked that outing last night so much was because of one pitch in particular; a swinging third strike (foul tip, to be exact), to Laynce Nix leading off the sixth inning. The pitch was a changeup, and it may have been the best one I can remember seeing Shelby throw all season. The location was outstanding, down at the shoetops and catching just the absolute barest sliver of the black east/west. The movement was excellent, with a bit of tailing action and hard downward bite that almost looked splitterish. The arm speed sold the pitch. It wasn't just a changeup; it was a really good changeup.
In fact, the whole sequence to Nix was a thing of beauty. Shelby threw four straight four-seam fastballs, popping 93, 93, 93, and 95 on the gun, garnering one called strike, one swinging strike, and two balls for his trouble. Then boom, 86 down and away, and Nix could only flail. It felt like the sort of plate appearance we've been waiting to see from Shelby; a confrontation he wins by deploying just the right weapon at just the right moment, and the sort of at-bat that plenty of other times this season we've watched go to seven or eight pitches as the hitter fouls off fastball after fastball and the pitch count climbs ever higher.
For much of the year, we've marveled at what Shelby Miller has been able to do while throwing basically two pitches. And two has been occasionally generous; there have been plenty of games he seemed to just kind of forget about the curveball for pretty decent periods of time. We've also discussed, time and time again, how he needs to develop that third pitch, how he needs to become more efficient, how he needs to learn to incorporate all his weapons into the game in order to take that next step forward, and wondered aloud how brilliant he might be if all those things lined up for him. Does striking out a pinch hitter leading off the sixth inning of a game in mid-July mean Shelby Miller has taken that next step forward? No, probably not. But if you want to see what a Shelby Miller with that final piece of the puzzle in place looks like, well, we got a little taste of it right there.