SEATTLE — Brad Miller took the next step Thursday in his evolution into a new role as the Seattle Mariners’ super-utilityman by starting in left field for the series opener against Boston at Safeco Field.
“No real emotion, I guess,” he said. “Just go out there and do it.”
Miller lost his job as the starting shortstop May 4 when the Mariners recalled Chris Taylor from Triple-A Tacoma.
The plan is, as outlined by manager Lloyd McClendon, is to try to turn Miller into a player with the versatility of Oakland’s Ben Zobrist, a two-time All-Star who plays a variety of roles.
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For Miller, that meant spending a lot of pre-game work over the last 10 days in the outfield, where he had never played professionally — before Thursday.
“It’s been a crazy experience,” he said, “but definitely one that’s not new in the baseball world. I’m just trying to take everything in stride, which is easier said than done.
“You show up and you bury yourself in your work and you keep going.”
Miller had just one defensive chance (VIDEO LINK) in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Boston before exiting the game in the eighth inning for a pinch-hitter. Rickie Weeks replaced Miller and had all sorts of problems in a decisive ninth inning.
Miller’s bat, at this point, is forcing the Mariners to find a spot for him.
He had a homer (VIDEO LINK) and an RBI double that produced the club’s only runs in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to San Diego. A day earlier, Miller had two doubles and a walk in four plate appearances in an 11-4 victory.
Miller was the designated hitter in those games, but that stemmed primarily from center fielder Austin Jackson being on the disabled list because of a sprained right ankle.
McClendon compensated for Jackson’s injury by using experienced outfielders on defense…again, until Thursday. And McClendon sought, prior to the game, to minimize the significance of Miller’s outfield debut.
“Listen,” McClendon said, “you catch a pop-up at shortstop; you catch a pop-up in left field. He can screw up at short; he can screw up in left. It’s the same thing. It’s baseball.
“It’s that simple…If it’s hit to you, catch it. If you screw it up, pick it up and throw it back in.”
Even so, a longer-term question already looms: What happens when Jackson returns? That should occur, barring a setback, within the next week, and it will require the Mariners to make a space-clearing roster move.
Does Miller head to Tacoma at that point to hone his outfield skills under a less-harsh spotlight?
The Mariners, barring an injury, appear to have few viable roster alternatives beyond simply jettisoning a veteran such as Willie Bloomquist, Rickie Weeks, Justin Ruggiano or Dustin Ackley.
A productive Miller over the next week might force club officials to take a hard look at those veterans. The Mariners have scored fewer runs than all but two American League clubs.
Shipping out a hot bat would be tough.
“I want to take advantage of my opportunities,” Miller said. “When I’m in there, (I want to) really bear down and try to get something going.”
CRUZ CRUSHING LEFTIES
One big reason the Mariners pursued free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz in the offseason was to limit their vulnerability against opposing left-handed pitchers.
It hasn’t really worked overall; the Mariners are just 3-5 against left-handed starters, but…it sure isn’t Cruz’s fault.
He entered Thursday’s series opener against the Red Sox with a .591 average against lefties (13-for-22) with six homers and eight RBIs.
Add a .667 on-base percentage and a 1.545 slugging percentage — that’s not a misprint, it’s really 1.545 — and he has a 2.212 OPS.
The Mariners are putting on a fashion show for their four-game weekend series against the Red Sox by wearing four different uniforms.
***Thursday’s opener: standard home whites.
***Friday: Northwest Green.
***Saturday: Seattle Steelheads replica uniforms in a tribute to the Negro Leagues.
***Sunday: The home alternate cream uniforms with the club’s original color scheme.
The numbers say outfielder Alex Jackson, the organization’s top prospect, is struggling at Lo-A Clinton: a .157/.240/.213 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) through 28 games.
Just part of the growing process, general manager Jack Zduriencik insisted.
“One of the things I’ve seen over the years with so many guys when you look at the Midwest League,” Zduriencik said, “is they’ll struggle early. Cool temperatures.
“This kid a Southern California guy. He’s not used to that. Now, he’s playing every day, and it’s cold. He’s taking long bus rides, really, for the first time. The whole environment of his life changes.”
Jackson, 19, was the sixth overall pick in last year’s draft, and club officials debated in spring training whether he was ready for the Midwest League after just 24 games in the Arizona Rookie League.
The average age in the Midwest League is more than two years older than Jackson. The Mariners expected, at least early on, that he would be challenged and possibly overmatched.
They saw that as a positive in his overall development.
“What I’ve found,” Zduriencik said, “is there will be a point in time when it all becomes part of his routine. Sometimes, it’s the halfway point. Sometimes, it’s two months in.
“All of a sudden, you begin to see these young talented players begin to take off. I expect that will happen with him. I haven’t worried about him. He’s out there playing, and that’s what he’s there for.”
It was 19 years ago Friday — May 15, 1996 — that the Mariners rebounded from a no-hit loss to Dwight Gooden by pounding out 19 hits in a 10-5 victory over the Yankees in New York.
Eight players had multiple-hit games as the Mariners rallied from an early 4-0 deficit. Edgar Martinez’s RBI double capped a five-run fourth inning that put the Mariners on top to stay.
Roenis Elias has not allowed more than three runs in any of his last 14 starts. He has a 2.62 ERA in that span but is just 3-5…The Mariners’ rotation, as a whole, has not allowed more than three earned runs over the last nine games and has a 2.40 ERA in that span…Nelson Cruz went 3-for-3 and raised his average to .361…The Mariners are 8-8 in one-run games and 3-6 in two-run games.
The Mariners and Red Sox continue their four-game series at 7:10 p.m. Friday at Safeco Field. Lefty J.A. Happ (3-1, 3.29) will face Boston right-hander Clay Buchholz (2-4, 5.73).
The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710 ESPN.