PHOENIX — At one point in their careers, Wade Miley and J.J. Hoover were considered young, up-and-coming pitchers.
This year, though, they’re in a similar position: veterans coming off sub-par seasons trying to earn their way back on to a big league roster.
“If you view it as a slap in the face, I think it motivates you,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “You’re pretty clear with what has to happen. They understand what they need to do to make the team. That’s eye-opening. I think, if anything, it sets you on a pretty good path.”
Miley, 31, won 16 games with Arizona in 2012 but struggled the past few seasons. He went 9-13 in 2016, splitting time between Seattle and Baltimore.
Thinking it was just a fluke, Miley put the season in his rear-view mirror but things declined even more in 2017, as he finished 8-15 with a 5.61 ERA for Baltimore in 2017, striking out 142 batters but issuing an AL-leading 93 walks in 157⅓ innings.
“I realized something wasn’t right,” Miley said. “I’ve never been a guy who didn’t throw strikes. I’ve always been a guy who could throw strikes. I didn’t want to walk 100 guys last year. There’s times you have to walk people but I was lost.”
Armed with video provided by the Orioles, Miley worked with a childhood coach, former minor leaguer Chris Wescott, and made the necessary adjustments. He auditioned for a few teams and ultimately chose Milwaukee, where he’d get a chance to work with pitching coach Derek Johnson.
Working with Johnson was also a factor for Hoover, 30, who was non-tendered by Arizona last fall after going 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA in 52 relief appearances.
“I’ve heard great things about DJ helping guys find ways to take their game to the next level,” Hoover said.
Hoover was in a similar position a year ago and performed well enough to make Arizona’s Opening Day roster. That experience prepared him for what he has to do this season.
“I’m familiar with what’s expected and what I need to accomplish,” Hoover said. “It’s also not my first spring training, so I know what I need to do to get ready.”
Before reaching deals with either pitcher, general manager David Stearns and his staff did their due diligence. They conferred with Counsell, Johnson and scouts to identify issues and ways to correct them. Once an agreement was reached, the real work began.
“I think when you have a conversation with (players), when David and Matt have conversations with the agent and everybody comes to the same thing, that’s how you find a match a lot of times,” Counsell said. “We’ve had some great meetings with our analysts and our coaching staff to kind of seek out ways to target certain things with some players. We try to do that with everybody to give them an avenue for improvement.”
Miley and Hoover lack the name-recognition and flash of Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta or any of the other remaining free agent pitchers or those potentially available on the trade market, but provide the kind of low-risk/high-reward value that can pay off in a big way.
For the players, joining a clubhouse full of young players trying to make a playoff run, and competing with some of them for roster spots, can be rejuvenating.
“It’s huge to have that kind of competition,” Miley said. “It’s going to be great for the young guys and it’ll be even better for me. I’ve kind of lost that over the last few years. This is going to be good for me.”