St. Louis Cardinals: Andrew Miller is finding a groove

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MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - MARCH 31: Andrew Miller #21 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws a pitch during the seventh inning of a game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on March 31, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - MARCH 31: Andrew Miller #21 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws a pitch during the seventh inning of a game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on March 31, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /
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St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Andrew Miller has improved on his shaky first half, and he needs to remain sharp down the stretch to keep the team in the hunt.

When the St. Louis Cardinals signed left-handed reliever Andrew Miller on Dec. 21, 2018, the team hoped it was getting a veteran reliever who could shut down left-handed hitters and be effective against right-handers as well. But for the first month of the season, it looked as if the Cardinals had made another bad relief pitcher signing.

Greg Holland and Brett Cecil were two players who did not pan out for the Cardinals, and Chasen Shreve could be on that route as well. When Miller was getting lit up in March, fans had that familiar sinking feeling. But unlike the others, Miller looks to have turned his season around.

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In April, Miller struggled. He pitched 11.1 innings and surrendered 11 hits and walked nine. His strikeout rate was good, however, as he fanned 16 batters in that stretch. But for the most part, it was an ominous sign for his season.

Miller only appeared in nine games in May, likely partly because of his troubles, but also because the Cardinals struggled mightily and didn’t have many close leads late, which is when Miller is often called on to pitch.

To his credit, Miller pitched much better in May. While only pitching eight innings in the entire month, he drastically cut down on his walks, allowing only one free pass. This did come at the cost of strikeouts, as he only whiffed nine batters that month.

Miller was used more as a one-out pitcher in June, this time only pitching seven innings all month. It was the best of both worlds for him, as the walks stayed down and the strikeouts returned. He struck out 13 batters while walking two, and he limited batters to a .192 average.

The Cardinals look to be building their trust in Miller, as he has pitched 6.1 innings in nine games already as of July 21 and has 11 strikeouts to two walks. It seems Miller has become a key cog in the bullpen again after arguably being underutilized in the last two months. Miller has shown he can be more than a lefty specialist, as his righty-lefty splits are nearly identical.

The Cardinals are in the hunt for the division title, and with the solid performance of the bullpen, they have a chance to get there. Even without Jordan Hicks to close games out, the bullpen has continued to produce, and Miller is one of the reasons why.

Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak has been under a lot of flak lately for his moves, but the signing of Miller could have been enough to put the team over the hump if this production continues.

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At age 34, Miller may not be as dominant as before, but he has shown he can still generate strikeouts and weak contact. With his troubles seemingly in the rearview mirror, Miller should continue to serve as a stellar middle-relief option.

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