By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
It was quite a two-month span for Shelby Miller.
First, the St. Louis Cardinals right-handed pitcher made his major league debut on Sept. 5, 2012 at the age of 21. On Oct. 3, he made his first start, holding the Cincinnati Reds hitless into the sixth inning. Then after starter Jaime Garcia went down to injury, the rookie was pitching in the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.
A whirlwind to say the least.
“It was pretty cool,” Miller said. “Definitely, when they told me I was going to be put back on the roster, it was a pretty sweet experience. You go from pitching in the regular season out of the bullpen and getting to start. Then, unfortunately, Jaime gets hurt and I’m the guy that gets to go on the roster. That meant a lot to me. There are other guys who could have done it, so that just means that St. Louis has a lot of trust in me. That was awesome, and I’m just thankful for the experiences they gave me.”
Miller, minor league pitcher Seth Maness, and former major leaguers John Mabry, Cal Eldred, Alan Benes and Al Hrabosky were at Missouri Southern’s Taylor Performing Arts Center in Joplin on Saturday as part of the St. Louis Cardinals Caravan. Several hundred Cardinals fans were in attendance to interact with the players and receive autographs.
For Miller, who entered 2012 as Baseball America’s No. 8 prospect, it was a season that ended on a high note but started with pitchers Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal reaching the majors before him.
“We know all the hype,” said Hrabosky, who pitched for the Cardinals in the 1970s and now serves as the team’s color commentator on Fox Sports Midwest. “He’s been the darling of the organization. I think what happened last year was a really important wakeup call. He goes to Double-A and has his struggles a little bit. Then all of a sudden, Joe Kelly gets promoted and Rosenthal gets promoted. Instead of sulking, he took it to heart. He kind of examined where his career was going and maybe for the first time started paying attention to some of the constructive criticism. Then he went out and had a very good second half and was promoted to St. Louis and pitched very well there. The hype is real.”
Miller was 1-0 with a 1.32 ERA and 16 strikeouts over six regular-season appearances for the Cardinals. He also made two appearances in the NLCS, recording a 5.40 ERA.
Now 22 years old, Miller will try to make St. Louis out of spring training, which begins with pitchers and catchers reporting to Jupiter, Fla., on Feb. 12.
Miller hopes to earn a spot in the starting rotation but knows that will be a difficult task with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia assuming the top four spots. The fifth spot is expected to be a battle between Miller, Lance Lynn, Kelly and Rosenthal.
“I’ll be busting my butt trying to win a spot,” Miller said. “There’s so much talent competing for the spot, so you never know what’s going to happen. Hopefully, I’ll just come out with a healthy spring.”
No matter how the competition turns out, Hrabosky said the Cardinals have something to look forward to in Miller.
“Whether he makes the rotation, goes to the bullpen or starts in Memphis, I think he’s proved to himself that he can be successful at the major league level,” Hrabosky said. “He will just wait his time until he can assume his spot in the rotation and just take off from there.”
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