Bobby Miller threw his first pitch 100.1 mph and got Ronald Acuna Jr. to ground out to third base in his MLB debut on Tuesday. Later in the first inning, Miller gave up a run on a two-out double by Austin Riley. but settled down to hold the Braves to that one run in five innings to earn the victory for the Dodgers.
The 24-year-old right-hander threw 95 pitches, 63 for strikes, and walked just one batter with five strikeouts.
Miller got his first strikeout in the second inning against Sam Hilliard on three pitches – a 98.5-mph fastball, an 87-mph changeup and an 81-mph curve. Miller’s other four strikeouts came on his two 70-grade pitches — two on fastballs and two on sliders. He showed off his power arsenal, averaging 99.4 mph on his four-seam fastball, getting whiffs on 7 of 25 sliders that averaged 88.5 mph and whiffs on 6 of 23 changeups that averaged 88.4 mph. He mixed in 11 curves and 7 two-seam fastballs that act like sinkers at 99.2 mph.
Going head-to-head against Braves ace Spencer Strider, Miller may not have matched his 11 strikeouts, but the Dodgers rookie out-pitched him on the scoreboard.
Miller was brought along slowly in spring training as he dealt with mild shoulder soreness. He made his season debut for Triple-A Oklahoma City by going 3 1/3 innings on April 29, but then struggled through his next two starts, giving up 11 runs (7 earned) in 5 innings with as many walks (4) as strikeouts (4). Miller started rounding into form on May 17 when he held Sugar Land to 2 hits and 1 run in 6 innings with 6 strikeouts and 1 walk.
Then the Dodgers were hit by injuries to two of their top starting pitchers in Julio Urias (strained hamstring) and Dustin May (strained flexor in elbow), so it was time to give the kids a shot with Miller and Gavin Stone getting the call. Urias may only miss a few turns, so Miller is ostensibly facing off with Stone to stay in the rotation possibly into July when May is scheduled to return.
Miller was selected 29th overall in the 2020 draft out of Louisville, where he had just become a full-time starter as a junior before the pandemic shut down the season. He dominated in his pro debut for High-A Great Lakes in 2021, posting a 1.91 ERA with a 56-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, before getting a brief taste of Double-A with a 4.82 ERA and a 14-2 K-BB in 9 1/3 innings over 3 starts. Returning to Double-A Tulsa to start last season, Miller dealt with some inconsistencies while putting up a 4.45 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 91 innings before getting a late-season promotion to OKC. His four starts there included a 14-strikeout gem against Round Rock as he totaled a 3.38 ERA with a 28-6 K-BB in 21 1/3 innings.
So what can we expect from the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder in his rookie season? The projection systems are pretty lukewarm on Miller – Steamer has him getting just 58 innings with a 4.29 ERA. The innings are certainly the big question, as first he needs to out-pitch Stone to stay in the rotation until July, then eventually Walker Buehler is aiming to return to the rotation in September from Tommy John surgery. There could be other opportunities too, as Clayton Kershaw usually needs a month or two to nurse his troublesome back. Miller got to 112 1/3 innings last year, so the Dodgers are likely trying to get him into the 130-140 range this season and he’s only at 19 1/3 so far between L.A. and OKC. With a ceiling of 125 innings for the Dodgers but the possibility of a lot of time spent in Triple-A, we’ll go with 100 innings and something like a 3.95 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP and 100 strikeouts as a reasonable expectation.
The worry is that Miller struggles enough that the Dodgers go in different directions in the rotation as they search for a winning mix. There’s other young arms that could get a turn in the rotation, from Michael Grove and Ryan Pepiot on the IL to the entire rotation in Double-A having great seasons — ascendant Emmet Sheehan, Nick Frasso, Landon Knack, Kyle Hurt and Nick Nastrini.
As for the long-term future, Miller is the latest in a long line of homegrown pitchers with ace upside. We’re not going to compare Miller to surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer Kershaw, but he could become a front-of-the-rotation stud like Buehler or Urias. As a right-handed college product with an upper-90s fastball, Miller most compares to Buehler, albeit with an extra three inches and 35 pounds. With career minor-league rates of 11.3 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9, Miller has the ceiling of a fantasy ace and has the floor of a back-of-the-rotation innings eater if he can stay healthy.