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Orioles' Wade Miley continues shaky yet successful start to 2017

When Orioles starter Wade Miley dubbed himself "Houdini" after his first start of the season, a day when he allowed 12 men to reach and none to score, he couldn't have hoped the moniker would stick.

And yet seven starts into his first full season with the Orioles, Miley continues to find himself in all kinds of threatening situations before sliding out relatively clean.

Wednesday night's showdown with former top pick Steven Strasburg at Nationals Park was no different. Miley exited after five industrious innings with just two runs charged to his account, but did so in about as difficult a way a pitcher could.

"Wade waded his way through," manager Buck Showalter said. "A lot of pitches. They made him grind there."

In the first inning, he issued a one-out walk and needed 26 pitches to escape. In the second, he walked third baseman Anthony Rendon with one out, watched him go to third base on a single by catcher Matt Wieters, then retired the next two batters to leave them both on base.

He wasn't as fortunate after that same combination put runners on the corners the same way with two outs in the fourth inning, as the Nationals scraped across a run on a single by center fielder Michael A. Taylor. But he stranded two in that frame, and was fortunate to yield only one run in a fifth inning during which the first three batters reached as he crossed the 100-pitch threshold.

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He got a strikeout, an RBI fielder's choice, and a line drive to right field to end the day with 119 pitches thrown.

"He got out of that," Showalter said. "I thought the fifth inning was a real indicator of his moxie."

Said Miley: "Definitely a grind. I had plenty of opportunities. I put myself in some pretty deep counts early in the game and then just didn't make pitches or execute and the next thing you know, you're 3-2, and you have to make a really good pitch, and end up walking a guy. They're a great lineup over there, a tough lineup to finagle through. There aren't a lot of mistakes to be made without them making you pay for it. I've just got to do a better job getting deeper in ballgames."

But it all boils down to two important numbers — just two runs, and just five innings. Miley was emphatic when asked which means more to him.

"Actually, the five innings," Miley said. "I've got to get deeper in ballgames. Our bullpen picks us up all the time. They're picking us up the last two games. I need to do a better job."

There's a simple way to do that, and it's keeping men off base.

For the season, Miley has allowed 52 runners to reach base on hits, walks or hit batsmen. Just 10 have scored, leaving his ERA at a flattering 2.45. Both his strikeout rate (10.5 per nine innings) and walk rate (5.65 per nine innings) are career highs, and his left-on-base percentage as calculated by FanGraphs is 87.9 percent — by far the best of his career.

It's all the sum of a season that has had more starts like Wednesday's than the April 20 gem Miley threw in Cincinnati. But the results have been there. The Orioles entered the day 4-2 in his starts, and Miley left with a 5-2 lead in the sixth inning, in line for his second win of the season and with an ERA that was second among Orioles starters.

Even if Wednesday's game got away from them, the return on Miley so far has been something the Orioles will welcome, even with so many ominous indicators of what could come next.

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