MIAMI - The Nationals on Friday selected the contract of right-hander Justin Miller. The 30-year-old reliever had impressed the club in the offseason and then pitched well at Triple-A Syracuse to earn the promotion.
Miller has spent three years in the majors - eight games with the Tigers and 74 games with the Rockies from 2014 to 2016. He also has pitched in all or parts of eight minor league seasons.
“Very impressive. Known him for a while,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “He’s been around. He’s a guy that has come back and done well. He deserves to be here, so he’s going to get a chance to pitch. He’s throwing the ball really well. What I really like is he’s got three good pitches and he’s throwing them all for strikes.”
Miller said he retooled his diet, strength and overall fitness in the offseason at Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, Fla. He had known Brandon Kintzler six or seven years. They met because they both share the same agent, Kevin Kohler. The pair had kept in touch and when Miller needed help with his mechanics, Kintzler would help him. Kintzler recommended Cressey.
“It’s good be back and good to get back here,” said Miller. “Yeah, last year was a little of a down year for me. Both velo and mentally wise and stuff like that. But got with Cressey this offseason. Brandon Kintzler, we have the same agent, so he got me on board with Cressey and then had a good workout program and lost some pounds and got some more mobility and flexibility, and it’s been working out.”
Kintzler said he lobbied to have the Nats brass take a look at Miller.
“Our agent knew some of the front office guys over here,” Kintzler said. “They just went and watched them. There was going to be a showcase for him, but he was throwing so well that they wanted to sign him before he threw in front of other guys. They just happened to be in the right place at the right time to see him.
“He was throwing the heck out of the ball. He’s a guy that used to strike a lot of guys out in the minor leagues. He threw hard. A diamond in the rough, hopefully, for us.”
Miller said Kintzler sold him on D.C. after he was traded to the Nats from Minnesota last July.
“He loved it when he came over here from the Twins, he really wanted to sign back here, and Kevin (Kohler) and him were really working to sign back here,” Miller said. “When he got the deal, we were all happy for him, me and my family and everybody and stuff like that. And just talking to him and what to expect.”
Miller underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012. Before that, he was putting up some insane velocity numbers. Miller than had some up-and-down moments in Colorado in 2015 and 2016.
“When he was with the Rockies, he was going through some tough times,” Kintzler said. “He would text me about mechanics and stuff. I just think he wasn’t healthy and wasn’t strong enough. Now he’s more about his body going through Cressey, our trainer. Now he can retool his mechanics. He’s got nasty stuff. He used to be a 98 mph guy before the Tommy John. Maybe that will all come back.”
Miller said he used to be able to hit the century mark with his fastball.
“Before TJ, I was up to 100 mph,” Miller said. “That was in Double-A at Frisco. I mostly sit 94, 96 mph and I went up to 100 mph twice. But I’d consistently hit like 98 mph. Then, when I had surgery and I came back, the hardest I got up to was 98 mph, and then I settled back down into 93, 95 mph. With the Rockies, I was like 93, 95 mph and I’d hit 96 mph every once and awhile, and I think I touched 97 mph.”
Kintzler said Miller did some self-evaluation after things didn’t go well in Colorado. He knew he had to get better strength-wise to return his velocity to pre-surgery levels.
“When I was with Colorado, it was mostly like mid-90s, 93 to 95 mph,” Miller said. “Mostly 93 to 94 mph. Last year, I don’t think I could touch 92 mph if I tried. And I guess my hips were a little locked up. Lost some pounds, got a little bit more flexible and I’m back where I was with the Rockies.”
Miller understands the “Law Firm” has the seventh, eighth and ninth innings locked up. But maybe Miller can be that arm to help so that 37-year-old Ryan Madson doesn’t get worn out before the Nats get to September.
“I’ve been mostly a fastball-slider guy my whole career,” Miller said. “I have a split now that I’ll use. But I just go with what the catcher calls. I’m not really a big shaker. I don’t really try to overthink things, just go out and attack guys.”