Orioles manager Buck Showalter insisted Thursday that pairing catcher Caleb Joseph with left-hander Wade Miley for the third time to start this season was done mostly by coincidence, but there’s no question the pairing is paying off.
Miley recorded the longest outing by an Orioles starter in this young season, holding the Reds to one run over eight innings in the team’s 10-inning, 2-1 interleague series finale win against Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park.
Miley allowed just two hits and tied his career high with 11 strikeouts.
With Joseph behind the plate in Miley’s first three starts this season, Miley has a 1.89 ERA, allowing four runs over 19 innings, and held opponents to a .127 batting average. Over his past two outings, Miley has 19 strikeouts and just two walks, a clear sign he’s been commanding and locating his pitches.
“He’s making the ball go both ways and commanding the fastball is where it all starts and ends,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. ‘There wasn’t one pitch they could take out of the repertoire.”
His success Thursday came from establishing his fastball command. He was able to locate the pitch to all four quadrants of the plate throughout the game on a day when he wasn’t carrying as good a breaking ball.
“I had pretty good fastball command, away, in,” Miley said. “I was able to move it around. … I was able to go down and away, move it up and in. Caleb did an outstanding job game-planning. I didn’t shake him one time. Everything was crisp. He just knew where we wanted to go and I was able to execute.”
Joseph, who offensively is still looking for his first hit in 12 at bats, said he didn’t know whether the pairing would continue but said he enjoys catching Miley, especially using his broad spectrum of pitches.
“I think Wade has had a few weapons that he might not have explored in some time, and I feel like we’ve been able to explore those in the last couple games without giving away all the trade secrets,” Joseph said. “But he has the option of moving the ball all around with all of his pitches, so when you can do that, the possibilities are infinite really, versus sticking to one set way of doing it.”
On Thursday, Miley worked ahead of the Reds, throwing 18 of 26 first-pitch strikes by leaning on his fastball but sprinkling in an occasional first-pitch curveball. He grew stronger as the game went on, needing just 10 pitches in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
Miley allowed just one hit after giving up a home run to Joey Votto with two outs in the fourth. From there, he retired 12 of his final 14 batters, and seven of his final 11 outs came by strikeout.
“I think [it was] the game plan,” Miley said about establishing his fastball. “[I’ve] obviously faced these guys in the past, and we looked over that and pounded them in a lot in the past. We just kind of stayed away from that, stayed away from them, and we felt like they were leaning all over, and we were able to pop them in. Executing the pitches is the main thing. I was able to execute when we tried to go in. I got the call and it just worked out tonight.”
Miley and Joseph worked together just once last season after Miley came over in a trade-deadline deal with the Seattle Mariners, pitching four scoreless innings of one-hit ball against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sept. 18 before leaving the game with cramping in his back. So there wasn’t much of a track record of success.
“Two good-looking guys, you really can’t go wrong with that,” Joseph joked. “Obviously, Buck [Showalter] has confidence in all of us to catch everyone, but I do enjoy catching Wade. I like the way he works and having the weapons. I think it’s broadening what he can do on the mound. There’s books out and with all the technology and all the information; you kind of get a sense of how pitchers are and how they like to work."
Miley said he and Joseph built a good rapport in spring training and it’s carried over into the season.
“Not to knock at Welington [Castillo],” Miley said. “I’ve thrown to him. He’s outstanding as well. [There’s] something about Caleb from spring training. I don’t know what it was. I know he works hard back there for me. We’ve got a good thing going right now. … As a pitcher you’ve got a catcher back there working really hard for you, and you see that. You kind of build off of that, build off the energy you see him giving, and you go from there.”
By comparison, Miley had a 6.66 ERA in 10 starts with former Orioles catcher Matt Wieters behind the plate last season. Opponents hit .329 off Miley with Wieters catching, including all seven homers the lefty allowed as an Oriole.
Miley struggled in his first eight starts with the Orioles last season, posting an 8.41 ERA, but this season he’s looking much more like the confident pitcher who ended the season with a 1.93 ERA in his last three starts of the season.
“I don’t think it’s anything groundbreaking of earth-shattering,” Joseph said. “I think it may just be reminding him that he can do it. I think a lot of times when the pitcher feels the confidence the catcher has in him and his pitches or the sequence or whatever, I think he can feed off that. I think they can respond to that. That is a part of the job description is to know their personalities and knowing how you can encourage them and motivate them. I think so far that’s been something he has done.”
Showalter said pairing the two for a third straight time wasn’t by design and said Joseph starting had more to do with giving new starter Castillo a day off after he was hit by a foul tip in his palm Tuesday. Showalter also said he wants Castillo available to play this weekend with the Orioles facing two left-handed starters against the Boston Red Sox on Friday and Saturday.
“I know [Miley] likes throwing to both of them,” Showalter said. “The big thing was [bench coach] John [Russell] and I decided last night that we wanted to give Welington a day. He’s caught like nine of the games on the road and we’d like to have him full speed tomorrow. Plus, he’s a really good option off the bench, especially against left-handed pitching.”
Back in 2014, the Orioles paired catcher Nick Hundley with right-hander Chris Tillman, and Tillman had a 2.78 ERA in 18 starts with Hundley behind the plate, holding opponents to a .227 batting average.
Showalter seemed slightly surprised about the trend when asked about it before the game, but made clear that none of his pitchers would request one catcher over another. Showalter said he’d never allow a pitcher to dictate the catcher he throws to and continued to laud Castillo’s ability behind the plate.
“That’s not going to develop here,” Showalter said. “It just won’t happen. I won’t let it happen. I’m not going to have a pitcher come in and tell me who they want to throw to and who they don’t. That hasn’t happened, but I’ve seen it in the past with teams and that’s a recipe for excuses. That’s not going to happen. Trust me. Plus, Welington does well.”