Disabato: Lincoln-Way North pitcher Mike Miller in dominant form
By Pat Disabato email@example.com Twitter: @disabato April 26, 2013 9:24PM
Lincoln-Way North's Mike Miller. | File photo
Mike Miller’s 2013 stats
(Through April 25)
Runs allowed 0
Updated: May 29, 2013 6:18AM
The velocity of Mike Miller’s fastball won’t cause scouts, pro or otherwise, to scurry for their radar gun.
Generally, heaters that hover in the low to mid-80s (mph), like his does, rarely do.
What Miller, the ace of a loaded Lincoln-Way North pitching staff, does that causes scouts, fans, opposing hitters and, I’d suppose, teammates to shake their heads in wonderment is his ability to locate that fastball, along with his curveball and slider, with the precision of an artist.
When Miller pitches, it’s more Picasso than powder river.
Up and down. Inside corner and outside corner. Any pitch, anywhere he wants, at any time in the count.
“His control is remarkable,” North coach Joe Skarbek said. “He can pretty much throw any of his pitches for a strike any time. That’s why he’s so effective. He doesn’t throw the hardest, but hitters can’t sit on a pitch ever.”
What Miller does, ladies and gentlemen, is pitch. It’s an art, one that’s lost among many young hurlers too consumed with readings on the radar gun. Much of the blame can be directed at college and pro scouts who place too much emphasis on velocity and too little on guile and guts.
Through Thursday, Miller hasn’t allowed a single run, earned or unearned, all season. Zero.
In 33 innings, he’s 4-0 and has allowed just 14 hits and 11 walks while striking out 37. Opponents are hitting .130 against him.
Before you think Miller has been beefing up his stats against inferior competition, note that two of his victories are against powerhouses Lyons and Sandburg.
“I’ve been able to establish my pitches well and take command of the strike zone,” said Miller, a Tinley Park resident. “The defense is making great plays, which gives me a lot of confidence out there.”
Miller’s pitching is reminiscent of a cat-and-mouse game, with Miller, the cat, deliberately setting up the mouse, in this case the hitter, with an array of pitches landing near the trap .... er, strike zone.
Backdoor curveball for strike one. Slider on the outside corner for strike two. The confused hitter’s then thinking, “What pitch is coming next, and where will it land?”
Miller might then whistle a heater up and in for a ball. At this point, he can come back with another slider or curveball, or fire another fastball, this time on the outside corner, which likely means strike three.
The next batter might see a first-pitch slider or fastball, and on and on the guessing game goes.
It’s a thing of beauty to watch.
Miller has thrown a strike on the first pitch to a batter 64 percent of the time this season. An 0-and-1 count is a pitcher’s best friend.
“I try to establish my curveball as much as possible,” said Miller, who didn’t begin throwing a breaking ball until he was in the eighth grade. “I have to get that pitch over to have success.”
Miller’s ascent among the elite hurlers is not by accident, nor is it a surprise.
The young man is a student of the game. He often watches major league games, studying the tendencies of pitchers and how they attack hitters.
From location to pitch sequence, Miller breaks it all down.
When he went to The Cell last year to watch Tigers ace Justin Verlander, arguably the best pitcher in the game, he not only walked away from that experience in awe, he learned a little something.
“He (Verlander) was throwing 92, 93 mph in the early innings and then he was throwing 100 in the seventh and eighth innings when it mattered most,” Miller recalled. “It blew me away. I’m a huge student of the game. I watch how pitchers break down hitters. High fastball, low curveball. I love watching pitchers set up hitters in different situations.”
In 2012, Miller finished 9-1 with a 1.26 ERA, earning SouthtownStar All-Area honors.
He’s put himself in the early running for Player of the Year with his jaw-dropping start.
However, what matters most to the Southern Illinois-Edwardsville recruit is the postseason. That’s when he hopes “Miller Time” will result in a prolonged playoff run for No. 1 Lincoln-Way North.
Like all the way to Silver Cross Field in Joliet, site of the Class 4A state championship game.
His only defeat a year ago came in the playoffs, when Marist upended the Phoenix 5-1 in the sectional final. It was a painful lesson for Miller, but one he promises to not duplicate.
“I put a little too much pressure on myself that game,” Miller said. “I put that game at another level. If I would have treated it like just another game, it would have been different. But it’s something I’ve learned from and when I get another chance in that situation, I’ll treat it much differently.”
A student of the game for sure.