Miller rocked, Braves swept in split-squad games

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Shelby Miller had 25 wins in 62 starts for the Cardinals over the past two seasons, but that didn’t make him immune to a bit of nervousness or desire to impress in his Braves spring debut Saturday.

The right-hander recorded one out and gave up three hits, four runs and two walks in a 12-6 split-squad loss to the Tigers at Champion Stadium. Miller threw 42 pitches and was replaced after a two-run single by Hernan Perez, the seventh batter of the first inning.

“That’s nothing that’s going to haunt me at all,” he said. “First game of the year, first hitters I’ve seen live. Obviously the Tigers are a good hitting team, tough team to go up against, especially when you’re leaving balls over the middle of the plate. Those are guys that are going to capitalize on not-so-quality pitches.”

In the other split-squad game, Braves prospect and fifth-starter candidate Mike Foltynewicz gave up four hits, one run and two walks with one strikeout in 1 2/3 innings of a 3-1 loss to the Mets at Port St. Lucie, Fla. Foltynewicz also threw 42 pitches and was replaced one out shy of the planned two innings.

Prospect Manny Banuelos, another starting-rotation candidate, gave up two hits and two runs (one earned) in one inning against the Mets. He might have gotten out of the third inning unscathed if not for an error by second baseman Alberto Callaspo.

Miller already has a spot in the rotation after coming from St. Louis in the trade for Jason Heyward. The Braves also got prospect Tyrell Jenkins in that deal, and he’s expected to join Miller in Atlanta’s rotation by 2016, possibly even sooner.

“Physically I felt good,” said Miller, expected to open the season as the No. 3 starter. “For the most part the ball felt like it was coming out good. Threw some good pitches, threw some bad ones. Felt like I was maybe trying to overthrow a couple of times and that led to some walks, especially those back-to-back walks killed me. Kind of pitching around the guy before, then you end up walking the bases loaded. That’s not what you want to do.”

Ian Kinsler doubled to start the game and Anthony Gose followed with a sharp single to put runners on the corners. After striking out J.D. Martinez, Miller induced a fielder’s choice grounder from Yoenis Cespedes to bring in the first run, and third baseman Phil Gosselin’s errant throw to second on the play mean there were still two runners on with one out.

“If we get at least an out on that ground ball, that might’ve helped (Miller) out,” Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca said. “And I’m sure he was a little bit pumped up to go out there and pitch. It’s his first time he pitches in spring training; those things are going to happen.”

After a stolen base and a Nick Castellanos walk loaded the bases, Miller walked Alex Avilan to push the lead to 2-0. Perez followed with his two-run hit and Tosca made a pitching change. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was with the split squad in Port St. Lucie.

The Tigers blew it open with a seven-run fourth inning for an 11-0 lead. All seven runs in the fourth came against a pair of relievers, Williams Perez and left-hander Donnie Veal. After Perez gave up five hits, five runs and two walks in 1 2/3 innings, Veal entered with two out in the fourth, hit the first batter he faced, then gave up a single, walk and two-run single before recording an out.

Cunningham shines: Braves center-field candidate Todd Cunningham was one of the few bright spots against the Tigers, going 2-for-3 with two singles and two walks. "He's having some really good, patient at-bats," Tosca said, adding that Cunningham's consistency and even-keel demeanor are strong suits. "He's the same guy every day he shows up here, that's one of the things you like about him."