A premier first-round talent in 2017, Alex Faedo was drafted 18th overall by the Tigers in that draft, coming out of a powerhouse program at the University of Florida that also boasted, among others, future MLB talents A.J. Puk, Brady Singer, Logan Shore, and Jackson Kowar. It was the second time he’d been drafted by the Tigers; the first time was as a highly-regarded prep arm out of his Florida high school.
Bryce Miller was drafted by the Mariners in the fourth round in 2021, coming out of fellow SEC school Texas A&M, although his collegiate career began at a small JC, Blinn College. At Texas A&M, he worked primarily out of the bullpen his first two seasons, with a so-so ERA despite possessing big strikeout stuff. The Mariners liked Miller’s stuff, though, and took him in the fourth round; at the time, we described him as likely a fast-moving reliever, with a possibility of becoming a starter if he could refine one or more of his secondary pitches.
What happened next is a reminder that the making of MLB players doesn’t end in the draft room; player development plays an integral role in getting players to the bigs, as does player health. While Faedo slowed down once hitting the upper minors, and then lost some time to injury, Miller hit the ground running in pro ball, making the unusual transition from reliever to starter in Seattle’s system thanks to a combination of good coaching and his natural talent and ability to adapt.
That ability was on display today in a shutout win against the Tigers. In the first inning, Miller leaned on the pitch that’s been his bread and butter during his rapid rise in pro ball, his riding fastball. However, the Tigers hitters had obviously prepared for the pitch that’s been putting Pitching Ninja on his fainting couch for the past few weeks and came to the plate ready to hit the fastball. The Tigers got their first hit of the game when the two-hole hitter, Riley Greene, took a 94 mph fastball on the inner edge to the gap—the third pitch of the at-bat—for an easy double for the speedy outfielder. Two batters later, Spencer Torkelson battled Miller for an eight-pitch at-bat before lining a 96 mph fastball that wound up squarely in the middle of the plate into left field. Miller would work around the jam by getting Nick Maton to ground out on three pitches, but with Miller fighting his command—not able to land the breaking pitches for strikes, and hitting the middle of the zone way too often—today looked like it might be more of a struggle for Seattle’s rookie righty.
But after that wobble, Miller snapped into form. Seeing that the Tigers were chasing the fastball, Miller dipped into his off-speed offerings more, using his pair of sliders (Statcast classifies the slower one as a curveball, but Miller considers them both sliders) and the changeup he refined with the Mariners to get scads of weak contact and quick outs.
After giving up those two hits in the first inning, Miller only gave up one other hit over his seven innings of work, while walking no one. He only needed 82 pitches to clear those seven innings; that eight-pitch at-bat with Torkelson in the first, in addition to accounting for one of this three hits, would also be responsible for about 10% of his pitch count today. Miller only collected three strikeouts today with just seven whiffs, a far cry from his dazzling debut against the equally-free-swinging Athletics, but his in-game transition from fireballing strikeout artist to soft-contact maven as the situation demanded speaks to an impressive ability to make in-game adjustments.
By the numbers, Alex Faedo looks like he had the more dominant pitching performance, with just four hits and seven strikeouts, more than double Miller’s. Unfortunately for Faedo, a hard-luck loser today, two of those hits were home runs, and with Seattle’s pitching performance, that’s all the Mariners would need.
The first mistake was not even an egregious mistake, really, just a fastball that wound up right in Kelenic’s Kitchen:
Jarred Kelenic CRUSHED pic.twitter.com/EhQZGwvEDA— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) May 13, 2023
J.P. Crawford was aboard to score there, having looped a fastball of his own—again on the inside edge, although a little lower in the zone—magnifying the size of the mistake, which is probably why Faedo looks like he just accidentally destroyed a child’s sandcastle after giving up that home run.
Faedo would make one more mistake in the fourth, hanging a slider to Tesocar Hernández, who sent this ball to live with a nice family upstate. This stays hit.
¡Nuestras celebraciones de jonrones son únicas!— Marineros de Seattle (@LosMarineros) May 13, 2023
¡Cuadrangular de 403 pies de Teoscar Hernández! #SubeLaMarea pic.twitter.com/puSOYrkjjc
This time Faedo spins around on the mound like he’s a shocked heroine in a telenovela.
The Tigers bullpen surrendered another couple runs—Teoscar, continuing his hot hitting, singled, scoring Julio, who had taken a walk, we enjoy all those things—and Eugenio Suárez, who had also walked, we also like that, scored on a wild pitch.
But of course all of that was gravy thanks to Miller’s dominant start, and the bullpen’s strong finish. Justin Topa was especially powerful in his inning, collecting two strikeouts with some nasty fuzz on his pitches, and Matt Brash showcased some filthy stuff in striking out Riley Greene in a 1-2-3 ninth. The lion’s share of praise for this game has to go to Bryce Miller, though, for showing that he’s not just a fastball-slider slinger, but can morph into a soft-contact command artist when need be: another edge to the deadly weapon that is the Mariners’ loaded rotation.