It might seem trivial that 51s left-hander Greg Miller is seeing improvement in his golf game. In reality, though, the fact that Miller is even playing golf is a positive sign for his baseball career.
In 2004, before the first of two shoulder surgeries, Miller was ranked the No. 2 prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
During the pain and rehabilitation that followed, he never bothered to pick up his golf clubs in the winter. But this past offseason, he played almost daily near his home in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“This is the first offseason I played golf,” Miller said. “I’m good enough to not embarrass myself out on the course, but I’d like to shoot a little better.”
He said his average score for 18 holes is about 90 — and his fastball routinely topped that number on the radar gun Saturday night.
Miller, making his second start of the season, showed why he’s highly regarded in Las Vegas’ 9-6 victory over the Salt Lake Bees before a crowd of 7,835 at Cashman Field.
The 6-foot-6-inch prospect was often overpowering in four innings of work. He struck out seven while allowing three hits and three runs, one earned.
“I really feel like I’m starting to find it now,” said Miller, whose fastball registered from 93 to 95 mph.
The 51s broke a tie with a two-run seventh inning as Mitch Jones hit an RBI single and Choo Freeman added an RBI triple.
Jones, Tomas Perez, Sergio Garcia and Kelly Stinnett hit solo homers for Las Vegas, which won its sixth straight game to improve to 6-3.
While he’s building arm strength, Miller is on a pitch limit. He made 70 pitches against the Bees and left after four innings with a 5-3 lead.
“My arm feels better on pitch 70 than it does on pitch 1, so that’s a good sign for me,” Miller said.
A first-round draft pick in 2002, Miller hit a roadblock in 2004, when he needed a bursectomy — a procedure to remove the bursa sac from the backside of the shoulder — and missed the entire season.
A year later, he underwent an acromioplasty — an operation to shave down the tip of the shoulder blade — and missed six months.
Miller split last season between Double-A Jacksonville and Las Vegas. He went 3-0 with a 4.38 ERA in 33 games in relief for the 51s.
Shoulder pain forced Miller to pitch with a side-arm motion last season, but he’s throwing over the top now with no pain.
“I’ve done so many things for the last couple years just to try to throw without pain,” he said. “I’m just going back to what I was comfortable with before I was hurt.”
Las Vegas manager Lorenzo Bundy said Miller has major league potential if he can control his pitches and stay healthy.
“Our big thing is to get him out there every five days and let him work on his pitches and command,” Bundy said. “We’ve got to be careful with him. We know there’s going to be some ups and downs.”