In his major league debut Tuesday night, Bobby Miller’s triple-digit fastball came as advertised.
Over the five strong innings against the Atlanta Braves, though, it was the rest of his arsenal that shined brighter than anticipated.
In the Dodgers’ 8-1 win at Trust Park, Miller put the full evolution of his game on display, giving up just one run on four hits and a walk while striking out five.
The club’s top pitching prospect began the evening pumping 100 mph heaters over the plate, flashing the pitch that made him a first-round draft pick and top-20 prospect in the sport.
But then, he started incorporating the rest of his wicked five-pitch mix, throwing the Braves’ talented lineup — which had been hunting his fastball early on — off balance with a steady stream of sliders and curveballs, sinkers and changeups.
“For him to arrive and pitch like he did on a stage like this, [against] a team like this, the way he showed was really encouraging for all of us,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I think this is just a start.”
Indeed, Miller’s performance certainly surpassed the uncertain expectations with which he entered Tuesday night, making his debut earlier than expected after the Dodgers’ recent losses in the rotation.
The 24-year-old had only eight triple-A outings under his belt. He compiled only four starts this year after a late start to the season.
Even he acknowledged some surprise when he got the news Saturday, after injuries to Julio Urías (who will miss at least one more start because of a hamstring strain) and Dustin May (who won’t be back until after the All-Star break, at the earliest, after being transferred to the 60-day injured list Tuesday because of a forearm strain).
Yet, despite facing a hostile environment and the first-place Braves (29-19), Miller rose to the occasion.
“As confident as I looked out there, I was very nervous under that poker face,” Miller said. “I just had to focus on my breathing and tell myself, it’s the same game still.”
The rookie first popped into the Dodgers dugout several hours before first pitch. He flipped a ball in the air for several minutes, then threw on his headphones and leaned against the railing, scanning an empty field.
His first inning on the mound was much more hectic. After two quick outs, Sean Murphy laced a single through the infield. Then Austin Riley followed with a scorching RBI double. Both hits came on fastballs.
“At the start of games, you’ve always got to establish the fastball,” Miller said. “If I don’t have my fastball there, nothing else is really going to work.”
But, after throwing his four-seamer on nine of his first 19 pitches — and giving up three hits to his first six batters — the Dodgers changed course midway through the second inning.
“They were kind of on it,” said catcher Will Smith, who added three hits and three RBIs in the win. “So we had to get off of that and go another route.”
That’s when Miller began layering in his other weapons.
He got his first strikeout by fanning Sam Hilliard with a curveball, ending the second inning.
He used his slider to retire Murphy and Riley for the final outs of the third, working around a leadoff walk and stolen base by Ronald Acuña Jr.
After leaving another runner in scoring position in the fourth, Miller produced his best inning in the fifth.
Hilliard swung through a 100-mph fastball, one of only 12 Miller threw over his final 76 pitches. Acuña tapped out on a slider. And Matt Olson — whose two-out defensive error in the second inning led to two key unearned runs, giving the Dodgers (31-19) an early 4-1 lead — fanned on an inside slider.
“For me, the biggest takeaway is, when it got a little hot, when he needed to make a pitch, he was able to not overthrow,” Roberts said. “[He made] them think a little bit more about selling out to the fastball.”
As Roberts told reporters in his office that Miller would get at least one more start in the big league rotation, a concoction of beer, shampoo and condiments was rained on the right-hander during a postgame clubhouse celebration.
“There was some nasty stuff poured on me, but I loved it,” a beaming Miller said. “You’ve got to appreciate times like that. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The Dodgers, however, are hoping Tuesday’s performance becomes a common occurrence.
They knew Miller would factor into their plans at some point this season. And with injuries already mounting, his role this season stands to increase.
But the fact he looked so good, so soon?
“He was really impressive,” Roberts said. “He showed just enough attitude and compete, a little edginess, and just competed.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.