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Orioles Look To Veteran Wade Miley To Provide Stability To Rotation

August 15, 2016
For journeyman left-hander Wade Miley, who has been traded three times during the past 19 months, the fourth team may be the charm.

Miley, 29, was the Orioles' key pitching acquisition at the Aug. 1 trade deadline, joining the Birds in a deal with the Seattle Mariners. For O's fans clamoring for an ace, well, Miley isn't that guy. He posted a 7-8 record and a 4.98 ERA for the Mariners before the trade, and he's been no better than a league-average pitcher for the past three seasons.

League-average, however, could be exactly what the Orioles need.

The Birds' rotation has been an amorphous blob of mediocrity throughout the 2016 season. Behind right-handers Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman, a cavalcade of candidates have come and gone through a revolving door of injuries and ineffectiveness. When the O's acquired Miley, they had a shoestring starting staff that included a veteran (Yovani Gallardo) with a 5.70 ERA, a rookie (Dylan Bundy) who is likely pitching on an innings limit this year and one spot that was essentially vacant.

With Miley, the Orioles have one less question mark. He doesn't need to dominate. The O's simply want him to take the ball every fifth day.

"I'm just going to go out when it's my turn to pitch and try to give us a chance," Miley said. "That's kind of what I've done throughout my career, just go out and compete, and I hope it works out."

Miley is several years removed from the hurler who burst onto the scene with the Arizona Diamondbacks, going 16-11 with a 3.33 ERA in 2012 and finishing second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. His ERA has risen every year since, and his travels have taken him from Arizona (2011-2014) to Boston (2015) to Seattle (2016) and now Baltimore.

Miley, though, has settled in as a reliable innings eater who won't overtax the bullpen. He pitched consecutive 200-inning seasons in 2013 and 2014. With the Mariners this year, he averaged just less than six innings a start, which would rank second to Tillman among Orioles hurlers.

"He's a workhorse," executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. "He's pitched over 200 innings a few times, excellent command of four pitches, he's got a good pickoff move. And he loves to compete. We hope he helps stabilize our pitching rotation and is a key piece we hope to help us advance to the playoffs."

Duquette noted Miley had been on the Orioles' radar for quite some time.

"We've liked his skills for a while, going back to the first winter meetings [in 2011]," Duquette said. "Our scouts have followed Wade for several years. We tried to trade for him when he was in Arizona. We tried to trade for him again when the Red Sox sent him to Seattle. We didn't really match up. So now we have him. We think he's a good fit."

Miley had a 46.6 percent ground ball rate when he joined the Orioles, better than any current O's starter. That ability to induce grounders works in his favor in front of a strong O's infield defense that features two Gold Glovers -- third baseman Manny Machado and shortstop J.J. Hardy -- and solid second baseman Jonathan Schoop and first baseman Chris Davis. 

"The defense, obviously, with Machado and J.J., it's pretty good on the left side, and with Chris Davis and Jonathan on the right side over there," Miley said. "I'm looking forward to keeping the ball on the ground. That's my goal, keeping the ball on the ground, and I trust those guys to make those plays."

Miley is also well acquainted with the American League East. He spent the 2015 season with the Red Sox, leading the team in starts (32), innings pitched (193.2) and wins (11). Miley could bring that kind of stability to the Orioles as well, according to longtime Boston sports writer Mike Shalin of the New Hampshire Union Leader.

"You'll like to watch him pitch because in this day and age of 20 seconds between pitches, he gets the ball and works fast," Shalin said. "I think it's certainly an improvement over what they had. I'd never look at Wade Miley as an answer, but he's a decent pitcher. If you look up decent pitchers [in the dictionary], his picture will be right there. That's the kind of guy he is."

One concern about Miley is his propensity to serve up home runs, despite his solid ground ball rate. His 1.4 homers-per-nine-innings rate with the Mariners was a career high for Miley, and moving to homer-friendly Oriole Park at Camden Yards could compound the problem.

"It's just not a great ballpark for him," Shalin said. "Camden Yards will be a place where right-handed hitters can hit pop-ups into the second row of those left field seats. ... So he'll give up the long ball, but then again, he'll stay out there, and the Orioles score runs, and they have a strong bullpen. So I think what Buck [Showalter] will be looking for is five or six innings, three or fewer runs, and I think if he gets that, he'll be happy."

The Orioles will have plenty of opportunities to see if that formula will work. Miley is under contract through 2017 with a $12 million club option for 2018, making him more than just a half-season rental.

"He's got all the qualities to help our club, and not just for this year, for next year," Duquette said. "If he can keep the ball on the ground, he's going to help stabilize our rotation and our guys are going to score runs and make plays for him. So all he has to do is what he's done over his whole career, and that's take the ball and go out and pitch."

Before his trade to the Orioles, Miley's most memorable experience in Baltimore was one he'd likely rather forget -- a heated dugout confrontation with his Red Sox manager, John Farrell, during a game at Camden Yards June 11, 2015. Miley, upset about being pulled from the game after four innings, was caught on camera shouting angrily at Farrell before storming into the clubhouse, an outburst Farrell called "unacceptable." The two later cleared the air, but the blowup was considered a lowlight of Boston's frustrating last-place season, Miley's only year with the Red Sox.

"I think it was an isolated situation," Shalin said. "I just think it was something that happened. It's like [White Sox left-hander] Chris Sale cutting up those jerseys. Chris Sale had never been thought of as a particular pain in the [behind], and all of a sudden he becomes nutty one day and starts cutting up uniforms. Guys are allowed a transgression, and he certainly had one."

Miley may find his new clubhouse environment more to his liking, especially with the Orioles in the middle of the pennant race, sitting atop their division as August began. It's a situation Miley hasn't been able to experience in recent years. The Mariners were in third place and hovering around .500 when they dealt Miley, and prior to that, he hadn't played for a winning team since the NL West champion Diamondbacks in 2011. Miley broke into the majors with eight appearances for that club but didn't pitch in the postseason. He could get his first taste of the playoffs with the 2016 Orioles.

"It's going to make for a fun last two months of the season," Miley said. "It's going to be competitive and that's what we play the game for, to have that challenge. And I think we're going to be up for it.

"Going from a third place team to a first-place team overnight, there's nothing wrong with that. So hopefully, I just come in here and not screw that up. ... It's now my job to help improve this team and get to the playoffs. That's where it starts. That's what we want to do."

Issue 224: August 2016