By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — If this slump is taking a mental toll on Brad Miller, it isn’t evident during a conversation with the affable Mariners shortstop on Wednesday, prior to the finale of Seattle’s three-game series against Tampa Bay.
Miller entered that game batting .156 on the season, then dropped to .154 after he went 0-for-2 and was lifted in the eighth inning for pinch-hitter Michael Saunders. Since his last multi-hit game on May 2, Miller is 2-for-36, and his only hit in the Mariners’ last 10 games was a two-run double on May 11.
Despite all of that, Miller, who hit .265 with a .737 OPS in 76 games as a rookie in 2013, doesn’t think he’s all that far from a breakthrough. That’s the way he has to look at it, he says.
“Always that way. One swing away,” said Miller, a 24-year-old native of Orlando, Fla. “One little thing. Baseball is such a feel game, and it’s right there. I always feel like I’m right there. Nothing too crazy.”
He says he’s not into superstitions, so he won’t seek any kind of voodoo-related remedies. Instead, Miller says, it’s about staying with his routine, continuing to swing at good pitches and trusting that eventually, he’ll start contributing more to what has been a mini-resurgence of sorts for the Mariners.
That much, at least, has him feeling encouraged: Miller might not be hitting, but the Mariners are starting to win more often, anyway. And he would like to join in the effort.
“I know it’s a long year, but I also know I want to contribute right now,” Miller said. “I want to go out there today and that’s really all I can worry about, going out there and playing well today and helping us win. I know it’s been great and everybody else has been playing really well, so I just want to be a part of that.”
He’s been getting help. On Tuesday, manager Lloyd McClendon joined Miller during batting practice, giving him instruction as another coach held a towel above home plate to emphasize the strike zone.
McClendon has said he believes that Miller can turn things around, but he needs to swing at better pitches.
“My point is, hitting is hard enough,” McClendon said. “The real good hitters make outs seven of 10 times, so to try to get hits on balls outside of the strike zone is going to make it even more difficult. So we’re just trying to get a better recognition of the strike zone and where he ought to be looking.”
The Mariners might look elsewhere before too long, though McClendon said Wednesday that “as we speak, right now,” replacement options are limited. That’s especially the case now, after the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers on Thursday placed infielder Chris Taylor (and his .372 batting average this season) on the 7-day disabled list with an injured pinky finger.
Another option is Nick Franklin, who batted .225 in 412 plate appearances with the Mariners last season and is hitting .384 at Tacoma this year. But there have been concerns about Franklin’s mental errors, like the defensive flub that led to a run during a game on Monday in Las Vegas and got Franklin pulled from the lineup.
McClendon hopes Miller can end speculation about possible replacements by hitting better. But time is running out.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned,” McClendon said Wednesday. “He’s struggling right now, and I’m trying to get him out of it. I’ve said a few times, you either play ‘em or you bench ‘em. We’re trying to play him and see if he can come out of it. I don’t have any answers. I’m being honest as I can right now. I don’t have that answer.”