If you'd said at the start of the season, that Arizona would have a man in the final three for NL Rookie of the Year, I doubt anyone would have been too surprised. If you'd added that it was one of the team's young starting pitchers, it would not have been a shock either. But I doubt anyone would have predicted that, rather than Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin or Tyler Skaggs, the nominee in question would be Wade Miley. Before the season, he was outside John Sickel's top 12, getting a C+ grade with the comment, "Can develop into a nice four/five starter." [To their credit, Dan and blue bulldog both rated him #7].
As we've noted before, Miley wasn't even supposed to be on the roster, right up until almost the eve of the season. But Takashi Saito strained his calf in his final pre-season appearance, forcing Kirk Gibson to make a late change to the bullpen. The decision came down to a choice between Miley and Mike Zagurski, and Wade's ability to go multiple innings gave him the edge. Manager Kirk Gibson said at the time, "Right now your starters aren't stretched out as much, so you tend to rely more on your bullpen. I would rather do that then push the [starters] early in the season... If you don't have a guy that can pitch 4-5 innings, then you blow your bullpen out for days."
And that's how Miley was initially used. His debut came in one of the more memorable games of the season, pitching four hitless innings and getting the win, as the Diamondbacks came from six back, to beat the Giants and complete a sweep in the opening series of the 2012 campaign. Six days later, he added three more scoreless inning, after Josh Collmenter again ran into problems early. And when a spot starter was needed later in the month to replace Daniel Hudson in the rotation, the obvious choice was Miley.. Pitching on short rest, he blanked the Phillies for six innings, striking out seven batters.
That was the start of an incredible run of 12 starts for Wade. He allowed zero or one earned runs in eight of those appearances, going 8-3 with a 2.09 ERA. He walked two or less is every games, only giving up 14 bases on balls over the 81.2 innings he pitched. Only three deliveries left the yard and he held all batters faced to a miserly .217 average and .579 OPS. He credited a suggestion from Paul Goldschmidt for some of the success: "He said, 'Man, you used to throw your slider a lot harder back in college.' That got me thinking and so I started experimenting with throwing it as hard as I can. I was able to feel it and throw it for strikes and I've just kind of ran with it."
His remaining three starts in the first half were less effective, but he had still done enough to become the D-backs' representative at the All-Star Game in Kansas City. The team broke the news in an unusual way. "They asked me where Alcatraz was at. I told them, 'San Francisco.' [A reference to an incident last year when Miley wanted to go visit the famous prison. Unfortunately, he was in San Diego!] They asked me, 'What state do the Kansas City Royals play in?' I got it right, I said, 'Missouri.' Everybody thought I was going to say Kansas. Then they told me to spell 'All-Star.' I said, "A-L-L-S-T-A-R.' And they said, 'Errrrrrr.' Then they said my name. That's how they told me."
He threw 11 pitches to two batters, allowing a single and a groundout, but it's an experience he'll certainly treasure. "They are the elite of the elite, and I'm sharing a locker room with them. I don't have words for it. It's been special, and something I will never forget... I picked Cole Hamels' brain, trying to learn the cutter a little bit," Miley said. "You get what you can get out of here. But I'm keeping it in my pocket." He was just glad the shutout wasn't broken up on his watch. "I felt bad if it was going to be me giving up the only run when we're shutting out the American League, but we had two guys behind me, Hanrahan and Papelbon, that are pretty good at what they do."
Miley knew it was then back to the everyday routine: "I have to wipe this away, right now. When I walk out of here, it's time to be locked in and focused and know we have a big second half coming up. It's time for us to go." The same went for the ongoing discussion of his name in connection with the Rookie of the Year award, chatter which began as early as June. To be honest, Wade's second half was not as impressive as the first - his ERA was 3.64, compared to 3.04 in the first half - and he particularly struggled down the stretch, with a 5.40 ERA after the end of August.
But his 16 wins was still most by a National League rookie since Jason Jennings in 2002, and his full-season ERA of 3.33 put him in the top ten for all qualifying NL pitchers. Given where he pitched at home, that's no mean feat, and his ERA in 16 Chase appearances was below three - since 2006, only two other pitchers (Ian Kennedy. last year and Dan Haren in 2009) have done that while throwingn 50+ home innings for us. His walk rate, of 1.71 per nine innings, was fifth in the league, and there's little argument he's the best rookie pitcher, ahead of the likes of Lance Lynn, Mike Fiers and Lucas Harrell. But can he beat Bryce Harper and Todd Frazier? We'll see, in about four hours.
Win or lose, it seems unlikely to change Miley, who has shown an easy-going nonchalance regarding whatever surprises baseball life has in store - befitting a man who was literally packing his bags for Reno at the end of March. "It's whatever. I don't put too much thought on that stuff. If it happens, it happens. If not, I'm going to wake up the next morning and do whatever. It's not going to break my heart or anything." Whether he wins or loses, it's impossible not to root for someone like that.