MINNEAPOLIS — Multiple factors went into Orioles manager Buck Showalter's decision to keep struggling left-hander Wade Miley in the rotation heading into the All-Star break, among them was a wishful thinking that he wanted to allow the starter an opportunity to go into the break on a positive note.
Miley has much to build after the past month, as he posted an 11.69 ERA over his past six starts. That stretch includes his shortest non-injury start of the season in his most recent outing, when he allowed seven runs over 1 2/3 innings Monday in Milwaukee.
It's a run that has put his rotation spot in doubt. Had it not been for the universal struggles of the Orioles starting pitchers, or the lack of any worthy successors pressuring the staff's incumbents, he might have already been bumped.
Showalter considered starting right-hander Chris Tillman, who was scheduled to fly to Minneapolis on Friday night after the birth of his first child. But since Tillman hasn't pitched since June 30 — he threw on the side twice since — Showalter believed the right-hander wasn't ready to return to the rotation.
"I just didn't like the idea [of him starting]," Showalter said before Friday night's game at the Minnesota Twins. "He hadn't done much. I don't think it was in his best interest or ours. And I think Wade would like to end the half on a good note; want to give him that opportunity. I didn't like Chris' chances with as much time as he's had off."
Still, Showalter said he considered putting Miley in the bullpen going into the break so he could find his command, even though the lefty has made just four relief appearances in 185 big league games, and none since his first fill big league season in 2012. Showalter said Miley was willing to go there for the benefit of the club, but wanted to see if he could end his funk before the break.
"Talking to Wade here, [asking him], 'Do you want to pitch out of the 'pen once or twice?'" Showalter said. "He said, 'I'll do whatever. I know I haven't been pitching well, but I'd really, I don't want to run away from this thing. I want to take it on. I'd really like to get something under my belt before we go to the break and feel good about it.' So out of all the things that could be possibly good for the Orioles, that was one we thought had the best return on."
Miley has battled his control all season. He entered Friday leading the American League with 48 walks and his 5.2 walks per nine innings is the highest of his career. Even so, Miley worked around his command problems earlier in the season. And even though deep counts led to short outings, Miley still had a solid 2.82 ERA through his first 11 starts this season.
Since allowing one run in seven innings against the Boston Red Sox on June 1, Miley has failed to pitch six full innings in six starts, including three in which he couldn't get through three innings. In his most recent outing, Miley allowed 10 of the 15 batters he faced to reach base.
The struggles have left Miley and the Orioles flummoxed, which is reminiscent of his first season with the club after being acquired from the Seattle Mariners at last season's trade deadline. Miley posted an 8.41 ERA in his first eight starts with the Orioles, but then rebounded for a 1.93 ERA in his final three starts of the season.
The Orioles have seen strong between-start work days from Miley, and he has warmed up in the bullpen well. But that touch hasn't carried over into games, which has made it even more frustrating to see Miley's regression. Showalter said he's convinced Miley is healthy, although he said the command struggles are something the club has to be wary of. So if that's the case, the team can only assume Miley's roadblock is mostly mental.
"You're always looking for a little hook," Showalter said. "You go back through his outing and you go, 'OK, this is where your arm is. Here's where your foot is, here's where all the things you look for when a guy's not commanding the baseball.' And then you say, 'You've got to get here to do this,' but if you're mind's not letting you get there physically, then it's a separate issue."
That's why Showalter wants to give Miley one final chance to get back on track before the break.
"I don't think it's anything that two shutout innings in his first two innings wouldn't do [some good] for," Showalter said. "This guy was just about stacked up the first third of the season with just about anyone in the American League. So it's in there, we feel like, and from his responses. There's an excuse there if he wants to take it, but he said physically, he wishes that was it."