SEATTLE – Brad Miller vows not to think when he plays. He isn’t good at it, he says.
The last week, then, must have produced as few in-game thoughts as possible.
In his last six games, Miller, converted two weeks ago from an everyday shortstop to a utility player, is hitting .429 (9-for-21) with four home runs, five RBI, three doubles and three walks.
He’s homered three times in the Mariners’ last two games, including a solo shot over the right field fence with one out in the fifth inning of Seattle’s 5-0 victory on Sunday over the Boston Red Sox.
And he’s raised his season batting average from .225 on May 10 – the day before this hot streak began – to a far more encouraging .264.
“I think the biggest thing is just try to treat each opportunity as a new one and go out there and play, and really not try to read too much into where I’m hitting in the order or where I’m playing – just kind of go out there and go after it,” said Miller, who batted in the leadoff spot on Sunday for the first time this season.
Miller expressed some initial frustration over the club’s decision to call Chris Taylor up from Triple-A Tacoma to play every day at shortstop, a move that subsequently forced Miller into a utility role.
He’s mostly slotted in since as the team’s designated hitter, though he’s learning how to play the outfield and made his left-field debut on Thursday. On Sunday he was back at shortstop, where he made a nifty play on a sharp ground ball hit by Dustin Pedroia to end the third inning.
So far, it doesn’t appear as if his new role has shaken him.
“I just think from past experience, looking over your shoulder and all that stuff – worry’s not good for your performance, I don’t think,” Miller said. “We’re all out here battling. We all want to do well for the team. So it’s fine. Especially a game like that.”
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said Miller has so far lived up to the vision he plotted for him when he first discussed the move.
“This guy’s a special player and has the ability to move all over the field because he’s very athletic,” McClendon said, “and he hasn’t disappointed to this point.”
Felix Hernandez dismissed any notion on Saturday night that his uncharacteristic struggles had anything to do with the ankle he twisted in the sixth inning of Seattle’s 4-2 loss to Boston.
And Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said on Sunday morning that he thinks Hernandez will be fine, too.
“He’s done it before,” McClendon said of Hernandez’s apparent ankle tweak. “He assured me that was not the reason (for his struggles).”
During the sixth inning of Saturday’s game, Hernandez twisted his left ankle and required brief attention from the Mariners’ training staff. He stayed in the game, but walked a pair of batters and was clearly not as sharp as usual.
But McClendon said there’s no concern about Hernandez missing his next start.
“He’s only human. We think he’s Superman sometimes, but he’s only human,” McClendon said. “… I think he’s going to be just fine.”
Mariners center fielder Austin Jackson had two hits in his rehab debut as a designated hitter on Saturday night at Triple-A Tacoma, and played seven innings in center field – as planned – for Tacoma on Sunday. He batted 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.
Jackson sprained his ankle in a game against the Houston Astros on May 3 and was placed on the 15-day disabled list the next day. He said Saturday that his ankle feels fine, though McClendon doesn’t expect him to join the club in time for the beginning of Tuesday’s series in Baltimore.
“He’s got probably a little bit more to do,” McClendon said.
Namely, the Mariners want to see Jackson play the outfield and run the bases without issue before bringing him back.
“Running the bases, sliding, the whole nine yards,” McClendon said. “He’s been out over two weeks, so as much as we’d like to have him back, we’ve got to be cautious with him.”
How much better is Seattle’s lineup when Miller hits the way he has been? McClendon: “Good today. We scored five runs. My guys still haven’t hit their groove. We’ve got a lot of guys that – just check the book – they can hit. And we haven’t started doing it yet. I think we’re real, real close, and when it happens, I think teams are going to be in trouble.” … The Mariners averaged 31,202 fans per game at Safeco Field during the just-completed nine-game homestand. … Sunday’s game included three replay reviews – one challenge by the Mariners, and two reviews requested by the umpire crew chief. All three plays stood as called, and the reviews lasted a combined total of 5 minutes, 33 seconds.
The Mariners traveled to Baltimore on Sunday and will have Monday off before beginning a three-game series against the Orioles on Tuesday (4:05 p.m.). Right-hander Taijuan Walker is scheduled to start that game for Seattle. After three games in Baltimore, the Mariners travel to Toronto for three games, then Tampa Bay for three more before heading home.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple