Has Wade Miley turned a corner for the Orioles?

Perhaps somewhat lost amid Trey Mancini bashing homers, J.J. Hardy and Jonathan Schoop having big series in Toronto, injuries to Chris Tillman and Zach Britton, and the Orioles being in first place, there is this: Left-hander Wade Miley ended last year pitching well and has begun 2017 the same way.

Miley’s first eight O’s starts: 8.41 ERA, .351 average against.
Miley’s last five O’s starts: 2.12 ERA, .211 average against.

Miley got off to such a poor start after the Orioles traded for him last July 31 that much of the fanbase, it seems, has set a very low bar for him. It is a bar he’s flying over at the moment.

It is probably more complicated than this, but by “trying easier,” Miley started to get better results.

After his latest solid outing - six innings, three runs allowed - Friday at Toronto, I asked him if his good start to 2017 is simply a carryover from a strong ending to last year.

wade-miley-follow-through-white.jpg“To be honest with you, it kind of goes back to Scotty McGregor (Orioles pitching rehab coordinator) and the talk I had with him in the outfield last year in September when he got over there, just (telling me) to try easier,” Miley said. “It kind of stuck with me. I think I was working too hard throughout games and trying to do too much.”

Over these last five starts, dating to Sept. 18, Miley is 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA. Over 29 2/3 innings, he has allowed 23 hits and seven runs and just two homers, with nine walks to 36 strikeouts. That is 10.92 strikeouts per nine innings.

Caleb Joseph has been the catcher in both Miley starts this season as he is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA. He was impressed with Miley’s breaking pitches against a heavily stacked right-handed Jays lineup on Friday at Rogers Centre.

In that game, Miley threw breaking balls (curves and sliders) on 42 percent of his pitches and changeups on just 3 percent, according to Brooksbaseball.net. That is a surprising ratio against a strong right-handed hitting team with power. But he threw backdoor sliders and had some of the Jays hitters off-balance as they sat on fastballs and instead got a steady diet of breaking pitches.

That night, that gameplan worked. Miley was commanding four pitches, and Joseph said he thinks we’ll see more success coming Miley’s way.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that that’s going to be a normal start for Wade night in, night out,” Joseph said in the clubhouse that night. “There are things I think he’s tapping into here that are going to help him be really successful. He’s really using both sides of the plate. Wade’s got the ability to move pitches around to different areas and locations and continue to change the book. That’s what we did tonight.”

Said manager Buck Showalter: “He really never got in any predictable sequence. Lot of strikes. Lot of fun to play behind.”

Said Miley: “Caleb did an outstanding job. I can’t say enough about the way we worked together. I’d seen him working back there hard for me and it’s a pretty good feeling.”

There is no doubt that Welington Castillo can and will catch Miley this season, but for now, it would not surprise me to see Joseph back there Thursday in Cincinnati. Why change the script when a pitcher that was a big question mark in the winter is off to a good start?

Another factor is Miley’s 2017 success - yes in just two starts - against right-handed batters. Last season after joining the Orioles, he allowed a batting average against of .333 and OPS of .894 to righty batters. This season, those numbers are .167 and .580. They are 6-for-36 against him.

After seeing him pitch to a career-worst ERA of 5.37 last year between Seattle and Baltimore, some may be surprised to know he has a resume with some positives on it. It includes finishing second in the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year voting behind the Nationals’ Bryce Harper. He was an All-Star that year when he went 16-11 with a 3.33 ERA for the Diamondbacks. He was Arizona’s opening day starter in 2014.

From 2012 through 2015, he posted four straight years of 190 or more innings with an ERA of 4.46 or less. In fact, his ERA for the four-year stretch is 3.92.

There is no doubt Miley can be a lot better than what we saw for eight Orioles starts in the second half last season. Right now, he is showing that. He can’t be expected to pitch to an ERA of 2.12, but a more respectable number in the low 4.00 range could be enough to be very helpful to the team.

If he can do it, it might be because he’s trying easier.

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