LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Shelby Miller acquaints himself to his new environment within the Braves clubhouse, he is comforted to know that veteran backup catcher A.J. Pierzynski will be available to provide the same kind of assistance that he did as they shared last season's final two months together with the Cardinals.
"He's seen a lot of pitchers in his time," Miller said. "He knew exactly how to help. A.J. is a guy who is ready for any situation. Whatever the case might be, he's a team player. So, you've just got to look at that way. I'm excited to have him on the team because he can definitely have a huge influence on a lot of the guys."
Miller benefited from this influence when Pierzynski joined the Cardinals after last year's All-Star break and spent approximately a month serving as the Cardinals' primary catcher, while Yadier Molina was on the disabled list.
It was during this span that Miller started growing comfortable with the sinker grip that he learned from Justin Masterson, who was traded from Cleveland to St. Louis on July 31. After feeling good about the way the pitch was reacting during his warmup session before an Aug. 17 start in Philadelphia, Miller said he wanted to immediately add it to his repertoire and got no objection from Pierzynski as they exited the bullpen at Citizens Bank Park.
After posting a 4.25 ERA through his first 25 regular-season starts, Miller produced a 2.08 ERA over his final seven, a span that began that night in Philadelphia.
"A.J. is a guy who has been around for a real long time and you can see it," Miller said. "He knows a lot of hitters. He knows what he is doing. When you throw to a guy like A.J. you just have confidence. He has that mindset that he knows what he's doing and knows how to get the job done. At the end of the day, that's what you want in a catcher. He can hit as well not only for average, but also for power. His leadership in the clubhouse is going to be a huge help not only to myself, but to a lot of guys."
After spending the past 14 seasons as the primary catcher for five organizations, Pierzynski finds himself looking forward to serving as Christian Bethancourt's backup in Atlanta this year. His attraction to the Braves was rooted in the fact that they were his childhood favorite and they hold Spring Training approximately 15 minutes from his Orlando-area home.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.