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Pittsburgh Roots: ‘I Think He’s the Best Closer in Baseball,’ Bethel Park Native Mason Miller Captivating A’s Teammates

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Mason Miller, Dennis Eckersley

Paul Blackburn saw it right away.

More than a year before Mason Miller became the man many feel is the “most electric pitcher in baseball,” he was  a24-year-old prospect pitching in Triple-A, working his way up the ladder with the Las Vegas Aviators.

Blackburn was in Triple-A, too, but not for the same reason.

The 28-year-old had been in the majors since 2017 and was only in the minors for a rehab assignment.

Although rehab assignments are necessary for players to get back to form before returning to the majors, they’re generally forgettable. But Blackburn won’t soon forget what he saw in Vegas.

“It was just the most dominating and overpowering (performance) I’d ever seen at that level,” Blackburn told Pittsburgh Baseball Now.

Five innings. No hits. 11 strikeouts.

The Pacific Coast League liked what it saw, naming Miller its Pitcher of the Week.

The Oakland A’s liked it even more, calling Miller up the next day.

The first season of Miller’s MLB career had its twists and turns. There were highlights, such as when he no-hit the Mariners for seven innings in his third start.

There were lowlights, such as when he went on the injured list less than two weeks later, not to return to the bigs until September.

This season has been much more straightforward for Miller– he’s dominated.

Now in the bullpen, a move that started when Miller returned to Oakland in September and continued into 2024, when the team named him its closer, Miller’s 14 for 16 in save opportunities.

His ERA is 2.02 and he’s struck out more than 15 batters per nine innings.

But more than stats, what captures America’s attention is the way Miller goes about his business. Miller consistently throws 100+ MPH and has hit 104 before.

The fastest pitch on record, thrown by current Pittsburgh Pirates Aroldis Chapman, clocked in at 105.8.

“When you bring that guy in, it’s a sense of, kind of, the opposition doesn’t have much of a chance against him,” Blackburn said. “It’s just fun to watch. Everyone’s on the top step when he’s out there.”

What goes through Blackburn’s mind when he watches all of this?

“I wish I could do that,” he said before laughing.

This is from a former MLB All-Star.

‘Nobody Throws as Hard as Him’

Miller hasn’t even finished three full months of his first full big league season.

But already, he’s throwing harder more consistently that anybody his teammates have seen.

“Nobody that throws as hard as him,” A’s catcher Shea Langeliers, who caught Braves’ star Spencer Strider in AA, said. “I’ve been around elite fastballs, but Mason’s on another level.”

“No, really,” Blackburn said. “No, I haven’t… no. “

“I’ve played with some guys that might tough a hundred once a month or whatever. But for someone to kind of sit around it (consistently)… no, I’ve never experienced that on a team.”

“No, no I haven’t,” reliever T.J. McFarland, who’s been in the majors since 2023, said. “You know, I was around (Jordan) Hicks a little bit in St. Louis. He was a flame-thrower that would occasionally get it up there. But man, Mason Miller. Just the command, the fact that he has that breaking ball… I’ve never played with anybody quite like that.”

Miller’s manager, Mark Kotasy, spent 17 years in the majors and went against a lot of flamethrowers.

He wouldn’t say he’s never seen a pitcher throw as hard as consistently as Miller, but he didn’t say otherwise, either.

“Aroldis Chapman, I took some at-bats off him,” Kotsay said. “I would say Randy (Johnson) probably didn’t have the 101 consistently… Robby Nenn was another closer back in the day that threw around 98 to 100. Billy Wagner. But as consistently and as many pitches in the hundreds as Mason’s been able to do this season, it’s really impressive.”

A New Role

Pitchers generally want to be starters.

Starters are generally the ones who throw the most innings, get the most strikeouts and make the most money.

It was as a starter where Miller made a name for himself in college—four seasons at DIII Waynesburg, a “COVID season” at DI Gardner Webb— and where Miller impressed the A’s enough for them to select him in the first round of 2021.

Miller’s first four big league appearances were starts. After an injury caused him to miss nearly four months of the A’s’ season, he came back in September.

For the rest of the season, Miller started two games— both two innings or fewer by design. The other four appearances came out of the bullpen.

Ahead of the 2024 season, Oakland named Miller its closer, which caught Miller off guard at first.

But ultimately, Miller felt it made the most sense for all parties involved.

“I think, a little surprising just based on the fact that I was starting for so long,” Miller told PBN. “But I think the reasoning behind it is sound, but the rate at which I’ve hit the ground has kind of hammers home that it was the right call. Just from a health standpoint and how this year is going to kind of try to shape up. I think it was an easy decision to get on board with.”

So what does Miller enjoy about closing?

“I like the fact that all the hard work the guys have put in, (I can) just bring it home,” he said.

Having the power to quiet stadiums of opposing fans screaming for a ninth-inning rally for the home team is another perk.

“Silence it,” Miller said. “You know, shut it down. I think that’s a unique opportunity, especially for us, given our situation here, when we get in front of a lot of fans, that’s something that fires us up, makes us want to elevate our game even more. But, yeah, there’s a sense of pride for anybody. When you come into somebody’s house and you beat them, that’s something to hang your hat on and you go in that locker room pretty pumped about it.”

At 25, there’s still plenty of time for Miller to become a dominant starter instead of a lights-out reliever.

One of the greatest closers ever– and an A’s legend– weighed in.

“I don’t even know what I would do with him,” Dennis Eckersley told PBN.

“Before, it would be ‘how much money could I make,’ right? Could I make more as a starter or a reliever? I’ll tell you what, if he does what he’s doing right now, I think that’s where he should be until he does otherwise.”

WE’VE ONLY JUST BEGUN

So do Miller’s teammates agree that he’s baseball’s “most electric pitcher?”

“Absolutely, Langerliers said. “I don’t know his exact numbers, but I think he’s striking out over two guys an inning. He’s throwing 103, 104 miles an hour fastballs and he has a wipeout slider. So, I would say that’s pretty electric.”

Blackburn summed up his thoughts.

“I think he’s the best closer in baseball,” Blackburn said, “and when the ball’s in his hands, I don’t think there’s much chance out there for the opposition.”

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