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Shelby Miller vs. Jharel Cotton

Reno’s Shelby Miller looked to build on recent minor-league success when he took on one of Nashville’s newest acquisitions and hottest starting pitchers, Jharel Cotton.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Monday evening’s most intriguing pitching matchup in the minor leagues featured Reno Aces RHP Shelby Miller, Arizona’s disappointing offseason addition, against Nashville Sounds RHP Jharel Cotton, acquired by Oakland at the 2016 trade deadline as part of the deal that sent LHP Rich Hill and OF Josh Reddick to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Based on their performances in this and recent games, there is reason to think that Miller, when he returns to the majors, could resuscitate his career, and that Cotton, when he finally arrives in Oakland, could provide instant value.

Shelby Miller already has enjoyed a decorated major-league career. He reached the majors in 2012 at age 21, won 15 games as a rookie in 2013, and made the 2015 NL All-Star team. The Diamondbacks so coveted him that in December 2015 they traded their top two prospects, SS Dansby Swanson and RHP Aaron Blair, along with OF Ender Inciarte, to Atlanta in exchange for Miller. But things have not gone well in the desert. By early July the bottom had dropped out of Miller’s season, and he was demoted to Triple-A after 14 starts and a 7.14 ERA.

Cotton, meanwhile, a 2012 20th-round pick out of East Carolina, spent the last four seasons ascending the rungs of the Dodgers’ organizational ladder. The light went on around midseason 2014, and since then he has enjoyed long stretches of dominance, punctuated on August 9 by a complete-game, one-hit shutout over Round Rock. In that game, Cotton struck out a career-high 12 batters and lost a bid for a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning. Monday’s matchup with Miller was Cotton’s first time taking the mound since his near-perfecto six days earlier.

Miller’s line for the evening (7.1 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 9 K) reveals much about the way he pitched. On one hand, he was hittable; most of those 10 base knocks were legitimate. On the other hand, he was hittable in part because he was around the plate all evening. For the most part he spotted his fastball well and maintained velocity, touching 97 in the middle innings. The Sounds did manage two runs, but the rallies were few and far between. It never really felt as though Miller was in trouble. All in all, it was a solid outing.

Cotton’s numbers, however (5.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K), do not tell the entire story. In fact he was perfect through 4.1 innings, which means that over two consecutive starts he retired 40 of 41 hitters faced. Reno DH Peter O’Brien worked a 3-0 count and then homered with one out in the fifth, and from there Cotton fell out of rhythm. Nonetheless, it does appear that Cotton brought his full arsenal to Nashville, including his deadly changeup.

Looking toward the future, it is difficult to believe that the Diamondbacks would give up on Miller after only 14 major-league starts, though rumors that they were looking to dump him did circulate around the trade deadline. It’s too bad, too, for he looks like a decent buy-low candidate. One never puts much stock in PCL pitching numbers unless they’re good, and Miller has managed good numbers in his six starts with Reno (4-1, 3.55 ERA, 38 IP, 8 BB, 45 K). Don’t forget about him.

As for Cotton, his eventual major-league debut won’t make headlines a la Julio Urias or Lucas Giolito, but there’s good reason to expect value. His 2016 PCL numbers (10-6, 4.35 ERA, 118 IP, 35 BB, 140 K) include impressive strikeout totals, and he’s unlikely to surrender the volume of home runs in Oakland that he has allowed (19) in some of Triple-A’s most notorious launching pads. That debut, however, might have to wait until 2017 because the Sounds hold a 10-game lead in the PCL’s American Southern Division with only 20 games remaining. Expect Cotton, Dillon Overton, and Daniel Mengden to anchor Nashville’s playoff rotation.