- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2018

PHILADELPHIA — Justin Miller spent his first two years of high school at a Christian school in California, where his father was a baseball and football coach. But the school location moved, his father lost his job and Miller lost his scholarship, forcing him to attend a public high school as a junior and senior.

Miller, 31, a Nationals reliever, has been adjusting and persevering ever since.

He had Tommy John surgery about six years ago, was released last summer by the Angels while at Triple-A and was without a job for part of the winter before he signed a minor league contract with the Nationals in January.

“I had the utmost confidence in myself that I still had it to pitch at a higher level,” said Miller, sitting by his locker during this week’s three-game series in Philadelphia. “I knew I was going to have to throw for teams to show that I still had it.”

Miller graduated from Ridgefield High School in Bakersfield, California and was teammates at a junior college with Juan Martinez, the brother of Nationals bullpen catcher Octavio Martinez.

The hulky, 6-foot-3 Miller eventually pitched for College World Series champ Fresno State before he was drafted in the 16th round in 2008 by the Texas Rangers. He made his big league debut on April 18, 2014 for Detroit and pitched in a total of 74 games for Colorado in 2015-16.

Miller worked out near his home in Arizona prior to this season for Jay Robertson, a former Texas scout who is now a special assistant to Washington general manager Mike Rizzo.

“He doesn’t beat around the bush,” Miller said of Robertson. “He would let me know (right away how he was doing). About three minutes into my bullpen he pulled out his phone and started videotaping.”

Robertson alerted the Nationals staff and Miller was signed to a minor league deal with Washington. He went to spring training and began the year at Triple-A Syracuse, where he gave up no runs in 13 2/3 innings before being called up to the Nationals in May.

In his first 40 outings this year for the Nationals he was 6-1 with an ERA of 3.89, with 51 strikeouts in 44 innings.

He picked up his first save with Washington and the second of his career on Monday in a 5-3 win against the Phillies.

Justin has done a great job. He’s the consummate professional,” Dave Martinez, the Nationals manager, said this week.

His save against the Phillies was his first in the majors since 2015. Miller said last winter his agent didn’t tell him that no teams were calling about him, since his agent didn’t want the pitcher to worry about his future.

So did the save against the Phillies more to him since what he went through last year?

“Yeah, any time I’m out on a big-league mound I’m happy after what I had to go through this offseason, everything like that,” said Miller, who pointed he was a closer in the minors. “I’m just glad to be out there and helping the team.”

His release by the Rockies last July came just before the birth of his first child, a son Ryker, on Aug. 18.

“It was like a blessing in disguise getting released,” he said. “I was able to get myself back on track (on the mound). I was there for son’s birth. It was like an extended off-season. I was taking the baby off my wife’s hands. It was really nice.”

Miller grew up attending Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, one that his grandmother and father have been part of for years. His father, Todd, was a minor league pitcher before injuring his shoulder.

The Nationals right-hander has a huge tattoo on his left arm that he had done when going through Tommy John surgery. The verse Romans 12:21, which says do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, is part of the tattoo and serves as a reminder for Miller.

“Just to have a positive attitude out there all of the time no matter what is going on,” he said.

His work ethic and professionalism has been noticed by his teammates.

“He has had a lot of success this year,” said Tim Collins, another Nationals reliever. “To go from extended spring training (with the Nationals) to a big league job says a lot for the amount of work he put in during the off-season. He came up here and immediately inserted himself into a big role.”

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