Tim Corbin took note of the diversity on the South Carolina’s’ pitching staff when the Gamecocks won back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011,
Vanderbilt’s coach saw power, speed changes and even the unique delivery of a submarine pitcher baffle the best hitters in the country.
So when Corbin watched Brian Miller pitch for the first time four years ago at Independence High, he knew he had hit the jackpot.
“He really caught our eye by his uniqueness,” Corbin said. “I think what made South Carolina so unique in their pitching staff a couple years ago was their ability to show you a whole different set of looks. That is what he does for us. He gives you a look you haven’t seen. He has the ability to manipulate the ball and decelerate and accelerate and move it in a way no one else can.”
With a sidearm delivery and multiple release points, Miller has given Corbin and the fourth-ranked Commodores exactly what they wanted — a shutdown closer.
On Sunday, the 6-foot-4 sophomore picked up his 11th save to match Navery Moore (2011) and Ryan Rote (2004) for the single-season school record. He also moved within three of Rote’s career record of 19.
Miller heads into a three-game home series against Mississippi State this weekend having allowed just three earned runs in 37.2 innings pitched.
Only once this season has he blown a save opportunity. He allowed two runs in the bottom of the ninth against then-No. 17 Ole Miss three weeks ago. But the right-hander calmly responded with two consecutive innings of no-hit ball and Vanderbilt won in 11 innings. He was the winning pitcher and improved to 5-0.
“He is one of those kids that wants the baseball every day,” Corbin said. “I’ve compared him to guys like [NFL kicker] Adam Vinateri — that consistent heartbeat that takes places when he is in a competitive environment. He handles himself so well.”
Miller’s conversion to sidearm pitching stemmed from necessity.
“I was getting hit around a little bit,” he said. “I would drop down to throw offspeed every once in a while so it was pretty obvious when it was coming. So I dropped down to throw a fastball and it just felt good.”
While managing to keep his torso straight, the 20-year-old bends slightly to the right before whipping the ball to the plate and usually releasing between his knees and waist.
But that location can vary depending on how things go.
“Usually I’ll start out low,” Miller said. “If the ball is moving the way I don’t want it to I’ll move it up a little bit a few degrees. Then I’ll come over the top every once in a while as well as kind of the surprise factor.”
“Very flexible young man,” Corbin said. “Probably has another career as a gymnast.”
Though opposing hitters are caught off guard by the delivery, catcher Spencer Navin called Miller one of his favorite pitchers to catch. Why? Navin says the predictability of the location of Miller’s pitches makes his job easier. The two are often on the same page before Navin even puts down his sign.
Opponents aren’t as telepathic.
Miller has thrown 34 strikeouts and walked just five with an opposing batting average
“It is extremely tough,” Navin said. “His slider, when it comes out of his hand, it starts behind you. You think you’re going to take it and then it ends up on the outside part of the corner [for a strike]. It is kind of like, ‘What can you do with that pitch?’ So I’m glad he is on our side, to say the least. As soon as I see him come out of the bullpen I know we’re in a good situation.”
The last two years, Miller has trotted out in relief more than any Vanderbilt pitcher.
He had a team-high 34 appearances in 2012 and has been called upon 22 times this year. He isn’t strictly a ninth-inning pitcher either. Corbin has gone to him in tight situations in the eighth inning and ridden him deep into ballgames. Against Tennessee last month, he pitched a career-high five scoreless innings before the Commodores finally triumphed in the 12th.
Miller ensured his durability and reliability when he underwent offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. He missed all of fall baseball but returned just in time to strengthen the back of the bullpen — and leave his own unique stamp on the record book.
“I’m glad that particular surgery happened then because he is as valuable a kid we’ve had in our program,” Corbin said. “I mean that even going back to last year. We gave him the baseball a bunch of times, more than what freshmen are usually accustomed to. But I think any time we feel that the game is close or in our hands or maybe we need it back in our hands, he gets the baseball again.
“We’re lucky he is on our side. I don’t take it for granted.”
• Briefly: Pitcher Tyler Beede will be the 10th Vanderbilt baseball player to represent Team USA.
The sophomore right-handeder was chosen Thursday as a member of USA Baseball’s collegiate national team this summer.
Beede is currently 10-0 for the fourth-ranked Commodores. The 2011 first-round pick has a team-best 1.51 ERA and is just the ninth pitcher in school history to win 10 games in a season.
“Tyler’s inclusion to the USA National Team is well earned and deserved,” Corbin said. “He continues the fine list of Vanderbilt players who have been active participants for USA Baseball. He is the right fiber of kid to be a part of that tour and will most certainly be an instrumental part of their staff and team.”
Beede is the first Commodore to play for Team USA since Sonny Gray and Jason Esposito in 2010. Other Vanderbilt representatives have included Pedro Alvarez (2006-07), Ryan Flaherty (2007), Mike Minor (2007-08), Ryan Mullins (2004), David Price (2005-06), Mark Prior (1999-2000) and Casey Weathers (2006).
Corbin has won gold medals as a coach with Team USA twice. He was a head coach in 2006 when the USA won at the World University Championships in Havana, Cuba. He served as an assistant coach for the World University Championships in the Netherlands in 2000.