Moving on up

Evan Miller

It was a normal minor league baseball game. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Evan Miller was simply going about his usual routine on a game day.

The former La Porte High School standout pitcher and Lake Elsinore (California) played at Rancho Cucamonga on the last day before the All-Star break June 16. After that contest,

Miller was summoned to the manager's office, where Miller was notified he had been promoted to the Amarillo (Texas) Sod Poodles, the Double A affiliate of the San Diego Padres.

“Initially, it definitely caught me by surprise,” Miller said. “Because after that game, I was just thinking about what I was going to be doing at the All-Star Game. So it was pretty quick.”

Early the next morning, he caught a flight to Atlanta, then another flight to Arkansas, where he joined Amarillo, which was playing at Northwest Arkansas.

Instead of playing in the California League High-A All-Star Game, Miller moved up to Double A for the first time in his career.

"It would have been nice (to play in the All-Star Game)," Miller said. "But getting promoted is the goal at each level until I get to the top. I was just more excited for that and looking forward to my next outing in Double A and try to get more focused for that."

So far, the 24-year-old right hander has made two appearances with Amarillo but it's been enough for pitching coach Jimmy Jones to have an impression.

“He’s a very good addition to our bullpen," Jones said. "Small sample size since he recently joined us, but it looks like he'll continue to provide stability that he has shown at each level.”

Miller made his Texas League debut with a perfect, two-strikeout inning June 17, helping the Sod Poodles beat Northwest Arkansas 8-2.

“Coming off my last outing, my offspeed (pitches) felt good,” Miller said. “It just carried over to that outing, nothing really changed. I try not to put any pressure on myself, just because it is a higher level with better hitters. But I just need to trust my stuff, that I can get anybody out, whether it's Low A all the way up to the big leagues. I trust my stuff.”

In that debut with Amarillo, Miller struck out Hunter Dozier, a .311 hitter with 12 homers for the Kansas City Royals who was on a rehab assignment.

“I look at it like it's any other hitter,” Miller said. “You can't really be intimidated just because they have big-league time.”

In his brief stint with Amarillo so far, Miller has thrown one inning, surrendering no runs on one hit. He's struck out a pair and walked none.

 

As a closer for the Lake Elsinore Storm, the High-Class A affiliate of the Padres, Miller went 2-1 with 10 saves out of 11 chances. In addition to his near flawless save percentage this campaign, the opposition was hitting a paltry .121 against him with an earned run average of 1.15 in 31 1/3 innings. He tallied 34 strikeouts, compared to a mere nine walks, giving up only five runs and 13 hits, earning the California League All-Star accolades that would have sent him to San Bernadino if not for the promotion.

“I was excited,” he said. “Coming into the year, one of my goals was to get to Amarillo and to perform well here. I haven't been able to throw too much here yet, but just being here gets me excited. I'm ready to show what I can do up here.”

Following a stalwart season last year in the Midwest League for the Low-Class A Fort Wayne TinCaps, Miller got called up to Lake Elsinore and flourished with his new club.

“It was my first time in High A and being able to perform right off the bat really gave me some confidence in my abilities," he said. 

So far in his career, Miller, who was drafted in the 22nd round in 2016 out of Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, is 11-14 with a 2.62 ERA in 172 innings. He's allowed 70 runs, 50 earned, on 136 hits. He's recorded 162 strikeouts and walked 52.

Despite his sustained success, Miller isn't satisfied. He wants to perform even better and see where that leads him.

“Last year, I started off really hot and I had a stretch where I fell off a little bit,” he said. “So this year I'd like to be consistent both halves and make pitches as good as I can, and try to keep my offspeed (pitches) sharp. Just try to continue to do what I do.”

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