Seattle Mariners

Mariners notebook: Miller seeking to prove to he can play center field

Brad Miller, Seattle’s opening-day shortstop, is learning to play center field but admits sometimes “I have no clue.”
Brad Miller, Seattle’s opening-day shortstop, is learning to play center field but admits sometimes “I have no clue.” The Associated Press

Still a shortstop at heart, Brad Miller is taking a pragmatic approach to the reality that he is likely to be the Seattle Mariners’ primary center fielder for the remainder of the season.

“With all of the (personnel) moves,” he said, “that’s clearly what I’m going to be doing. So, yeah, my thing is I’ve got to be professional. This is something new to me. It’s obviously a challenge. I’ve never done it before.”

Two primary moves resulted in Miller shifting positions.

First, the Mariners appear increasingly convinced that rookie Ketel Marte is their shortstop of the future. Marte started 17 of the past 18 games at shortstop — and the one time he didn’t resulted in a disaster.

That was Sunday in Chicago when Marte was sidelined by a slight strain in his right hamstring. Miller drew the start and committed a poor two-out throw in the ninth inning on a play that should have ended the game.

The Mariners lost in 10 innings.

Fair or not, Miller’s error reinforced the idea among club officials that manager Lloyd McClendon is right in contending Miller fits best as a utility player.

“He’s a good athlete who can help you in a lot of areas,” McClendon said. We’ve always liked his bat. The thing we’ve got to do is figure out where he fits best.”

That possible fit became center field Monday when the Mariners traded Austin Jackson to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named and one of the Cubs’ slots in the international signing-bonus pool.

Jackson was a pending free agent who wasn’t likely to return, which meant the Mariners’ offseason checklist includes finding or acquiring a replacement. Miller is, in effect, auditioning for the job.

“At this point in time,” interim general manager Jeff Kingston said, “it’s probably hist best fit for this organization going forward. We think he has the components and that skill set to play out there.

“If he can play out there, it’s a huge asset to this organization moving forward.”

McClendon said much the same thing.

“I think he handles himself pretty well in center,” he said. “He’s not overwhelmed by it. He’ll continue to get some time out there, and we’ll see what happens.”

Miller hears this and, well, he’s game for the challenge.

Still …

“People can speculate that I can do this or I can do that,” he said. “Well, I’ve never done it. That’s the challenge. I know I can play shortstop because I’ve done it. In center field, I have no clue. It’s very foreign to me.”

That inexperience showed Tuesday night when Miller threw to the wrong base after fielding a double in the gap. His error permitted the runner to take third.

“Clearly, as an infielder,” he said, “I know what the situation is. But when it came off the wall, I wanted to make a play. I didn’t pick up my guys. and I just rushed it.”

There are other things to learn.

Most outfielders often read the ball off the bat, make a judgment on where it’s headed, run toward that spot and pick up the ball again. For now, Miller keeps his eye on the ball the entire time.

“I’m just trying not to turn my head too much,” he said. “Every ball is new for me. I’m just trying to keep my eyes on the ball so I can get the most out of all of the reads.”

Even with limited outfield experience, though, Miller already agrees with the standard view that, in many ways, center field is the easiest of the three positions.

“Center field is cool because I can still see the pitches,” he said. “I can still be in the game. Whereas in the corners, you’re pretty blind out there. There’s a lot of room to run out there and talk to yourself and think.

“But I’m having fun with it. It is exciting to be going out there and seeing what I’ve got. That’s part of it — you have to prove it to yourself, too, that you can go out there and handle it.”

That’s what the next month is all about.

MINOR DETAILS

Taylor Zeutenhorst’s two-run homer keyed a three-run 12th inning Wednesday night that carried Single-A Everett to an 8-5 victory at Spokane (Rangers) and into the Northwest League playoffs.

The victory enabled the AquaSox to to clinch a tie for North Division second-half pennant. They have a four-game lead over Tri-City (Padres) with four games remaining.

Since Tri-City won the first-half pennant, the AquaSox clinched a playoff spot. They will host Tri-City on Monday in the opener to a best-of-three series.

LOOKING BACK

It was 34 years ago Friday — Sept. 4, 1981 — that the Mariners won two games against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park without playing a doubleheader.

The first was an 8-7 victory in 20 innings that was the completion of a game suspended the prior night because of the American League’s 1 a.m. curfew.

The Mariners then won 5-2 in the regularly scheduled game.

SHORT HOPS

Half of Franklin Gutierrez’s 42 hits have been for extra bases. … Kyle Seager is 12 for 26 in six games since getting a rare day out of the starting lineup. … Right-hander Taijuan Walker is closing strong. He has seven quality starts (at least six innings, no more than three earned runs) in his past eight outings. … On Wednesday, the Mariners became the first visiting team to win a series at Houston’s Minute Maid Park since the Chicago White Sox on May 29-31.

ON TAP

The Mariners begin the final portion of their three-city trip when they open a three-game weekend series at 7:10 p.m. Friday in Oakland. Lefty Edgar Olmos (1-0, 2.13 ERA) will face Athletics right-hander Aaron Brooks (1-1, 5.47).

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners

FRIDAY: Seattle (LHP Edgar Olmos: 1-0, 2.13 ERA) at Oakland (RHP Aaron Brooks: 1-1, 5.47), 7:10 p.m., Root Sports, 710-AM, 1030-AM

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