Oakland, Calif. — Even if it's a stretch to say the late-July arrival of right-hander Jeremy Hellickson inspired a turnaround for the Orioles' embattled starting rotation, his influence is already clear on one teammate: left-hander Wade Miley.
For the second straight start, Miley featured his curveball heavily and with great effect en route to seven innings without an earned run in a 7-2 Orioles win over the Oakland Athletics on Thursday.
The pitch, Miley said, is more effective of late than it has been his whole career — with a nod going toward Hellickson and fellow right-hander Chris Tillman for the changes.
"It's by design — I'm trying to have a pitch that I can use to get ahead with," Miley said. "I've actually been able to use it to put away guys, which is something I really haven't done much in my career with a curveball, but it's good. ... I talked to Tillman about it and started spiking it a little bit. Seeing Hellickson come over here, he spikes it. I just kind of played with it. I don't know if that's a big change or not."
At least by results, it has been. On Thursday, 26 of Miley's 111 pitches were curveballs, according to Baseball Savant, with six of his nine swinging strikes coming on the pitch. Overall, he got four strikeouts, seven groundouts and one lineout on the pitch.
According to Brooks Baseball, his only other start with over 20 percent of his pitches being curveballs was his previous start Saturday against the Detroit Tigers — also 23 percent. On that occasion, he picked up five of his 15 outs on the pitch.
Before Saturday, he'd thrown the pitch just seven percent of the time.
Manager Buck Showalter hadn't noticed an uptick in usage of the pitch, but said plenty could have been behind it.
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"It could be [by design]," Showalter said. "Maybe he's got better command of it and he feels more comfortable throwing it, especially when he throws it for a strike, then throws the short one where he might get a chase."
Both Hellickson and Tillman utilize a knuckle-curve grip, which could explain why the pitch is breaking less for Miley recently. In the start against Detroit, the pitch was on average, shorter than usual. Entering August, Miley's curveball had an average spin rate of 2,469 rpm, but it was down to 2,389 on Saturday, according to Statcast data.
A two-start sample for a pitcher with Miley's up-and-down track record this season isn't much to go on, but given how comfortable he seems with the pitch in his recent outings, the veteran left-hander certainly has something to build on.
Miley lowered his ERA from 5.51 to 5.19 on Thursday with his first quality start since June 1. He has allowed two or fewer runs in three straight starts.
"Hopefully, I can keep it going," he said.