ST. LOUIS - While mustering a lousy single in seven fruitless innings against St. Louis Cardinals rookie Shelby Miller, Milwaukee Brewers hitters returned to the dugout muttering to themselves.
"It was weird. He has a straight fastball, straight as an arrow," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said.
Didn't matter, and the Brewers are not alone. No one has figured out how to beat the 22-year-old Miller.
In his first career start in the final game of the 2012 regular season, the hard-throwing right-hander carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning, and in two starts at home this year he hasn't given up a run. He beat the World Series champion Giants in his first career road start and is 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA entering tonight's start at Pittsburgh, averaging a strikeout per inning.
"It's part deception, part late life," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's got a knack for a fastball that gets on guys quicker than what they would think. He's got a little bit of something just a little different than what most people are used to looking at."
Miller, who throws in the mid-90s, had a career-high eight strikeouts against Milwaukee, retiring his final 17 batters in order.
"He's throwing 92 mph and the way we're swinging, it looks like 100," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "The ball comes out different than most people's fastballs and we didn't get good swings."
Seeing more of him hasn't helped, either.
"After the first time through, it wasn't like he was surprising them," Roenicke said. "They just weren't catching up to it."
Miller was the Cardinals' first-round draft pick in 2009 and the 19th overall selection out of high school in Brownsville, Texas, and he moved up fast. He was the team's minor-league player of the year in 2010 and "11, and set a franchise strikeout record at Triple-A Memphis last year before an impressive first taste of the majors that included relief work against the Giants in the NL championship series.
The Cardinals needed a starter after Chris Carpenter's potentially career-ending shoulder injury before camp opened. Miller beat out two other prospects, 24-year-old Joe Kelly and 22-year-old Trevor Rosenthal who also made successful debuts last season, for the fifth spot.
On Friday, Miller outpitched Kyle Lohse, the 16-game winner the Cardinals allowed to leave in free agency while investing instead in multiyear deal for ace Adam Wainwright and trusting in the team's young arms. Lohse was suitably impressed with Miller's game, although he too noted a fastball that came in on a clothesline.
"You can't believe how straight it is," Lohse said. "It gives the illusion that it's riding but it's staying right on plane."
Because he's no longer a teammate, Lohse held back other thoughts: "I'm not going to give him any hints."
The Brewers got nothing after a leadoff single in the first by Norichika Aoki. The Brewers fouled off so many pitches early Matheny fretted whether Miller would get through five innings, but he adjusted with more strikes lower in the zone.
Throughout, the rookie leaned on guidance from five-time Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina. It'll be the same against the Pirates.
"Whatever he calls, I throw," Miller said. "I haven't shaken him off all year, it's not just me throwing."
Teammates saw plenty of poise on the mound, too, from the kid who earned his first invitation to spring training at age 19 and who fanned four Mets in two innings in his major-league debut last September. Stand-in closer Mitchell Boggs noted most of the time Miller was in the game, the Cardinals were up just 1-0 against Lohse, who was seventh in the NL Cy Young balloting last year.
"You make one mistake and the game's tied, and he's pitching against a guy he saw time and time again dominate, not let a team get away from him," Boggs said. "He was impressive."