Bryce Miller pitches during a game against the Tri-City Dust Devils on June 15 at Funko Field in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Bryce Miller pitches during a game against the Tri-City Dust Devils on June 15 at Funko Field in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

AquaSox’s Miller emerging as top starter in Northwest League

The hard-throwing right-hander and his four-pitch mix have given batters fits all season long.

The Tri-City Dust Devils had done everything they could to try and solve Everett AquaSox pitcher Bryce Miller. So last Wednesday they attempted a new strategy: knocking Miller literally out of the game.

It was the top of the second inning and Tri-City’s Mitch Ney lined a ball back up the middle that caught Miller on his right (throwing) wrist, forcing a delay in the game as Miller had his wrist examined.

The tactic didn’t work, at least not immediately as Miller remained in the game and got the next three hitters out before being removed for precautionary purposes. The outing extended Miller’s streak of consecutive innings against the Dust Devils without allowing an earned run to 19.1.

And the rest of the Northwest League hasn’t fared any better against Miller, who’s making a strong argument for being the Northwest League’s best starting pitcher.

“You see him on the mound and he has an incredible arm, he’s super talented,” Everett pitching coach Matt Pierpont said. “He’s putting together a really good season and has been really impressive, which honestly is what we expected. I know he has more in the tank, so I’m excited to see where he takes it.”

The idea Miller has more in the tank has to be frightening for opposing hitters. The easygoing mustachioed Texan, who was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the fourth round of the 2021 draft out of Texas A&M, has put up dynamite stats this season, going 3-1 while leading the league in ERA (1.77) and strikeouts (72 in 56 innings). The 23-year-old, who measures in a 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, also has an electric four-seam fastball that touches 99 mph and sits in the mid-to-upper 90s — Pierpont described it as “one of the best fastballs in baseball.”

Bryce Miller stretches and talks with the umpire after being struck in the arm by a hit during a game against the Tri-City Dust Devils on June 15 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Bryce Miller stretches and talks with the umpire after being struck in the arm by a hit during a game against the Tri-City Dust Devils on June 15 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Miller’s full repertoire includes his dominating fastball — which has maintained its velocity through most of his starts, which have tended to be five to six innings — a power slider that sits in the upper 80s, a sweeping slider that’s in the low 80s and a changeup in the mid 80s. Pierpont said all four pitches are “very good.” Miller’s stuff has him ranked as Seattle’s 22nd-best prospect by and fourth among players on Everett’s roster, and his results mean he’s sure to move up those lists.

“Things have been going well,” Miller said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate so far, I’ve been healthy throughout the year and been able to trust my stuff. I think every outing I’ve gotten better, but I still have a long ways to go.”

Miller’s been putting in the work to get better, particularly with his sweeping slider, which is a new development. Before this season Miller threw a curveball along with his fastball, hard slider and change. But watching Mariners top prospect Matt Brash during spring training put the idea of the sweeping slider into Miller’s head. Miller tinkered with the pitch and became comfortable enough with it that he had it replace the curveball.

“I think it’s a lot better than my curveball was,” Miller said. “The curveball was usually 75-77 (mph) and straight 12-6 movement, whereas now we’re going low-to-mid 80s and moving away from a righty. I think I’ve gotten it up to 22-23 inches of horizontal movement, so it’s going well so far. I’m still trying to get the location down, but we’re definitely getting there.”

Mastering the sweeping slider may play a big role in Miller’s path toward the big leagues. Given Miller’s huge fastball and power slider, there are suggestions his stuff would play well in a relief role, which in turn would accelerate his journey to T-Mobile Park. Miller has plenty of experience in the bullpen. He didn’t become a pitcher until his senior year of high school, and as a result he pitched relief most of his college career before getting a chance to start as a senior in 2021. So it’s possible a role in relief is in his future.

But adding a fourth plus pitch would do wonders in making Miller a viable candidate as a starter at the big-league level, and that’s what Miller would prefer.

“I enjoy being in the bullpen, but I think with the four pitches I have right now and where my body is at I definitely will pursue starting for as long as they will let me,” Miller said. “As long as I can stay healthy and throw the ball over the plate, we’ll be in good shape throughout every game.”

Miller’s knock to his wrist could cause a temporary setback. He was hoping to make his scheduled start Tuesday in Spokane, but as of Monday morning it was still not certain if Miller would take his regular turn. Everett manager Eric Farris said that if Miller doesn’t start Tuesday he’ll be back on the mound later in the week.

Which is bad news for the Indians and the rest of the Northwest League. It means opposing batters will be back to trying to find a way to solve Miller.

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