ANAHEIM, Calif. — Brad Miller admits he isn’t happy at the Mariners’ emerging plan to shift him from duty as a full-time shortstop into a super utility role.
“They just told me I won’t be playing short,” he said. “I’ll be playing other spots. Just kind of go from there. I was pretty frustrated, but I’m a player. I go out and play. They make the decisions.”
The Mariners’ signaled the change Monday by recalling shortstop Chris Taylor from Triple-A Tacoma. Miller began taking outfield drills prior to Monday’s 3-2 victory in the series opener.
“My vision is to see him as a Ben Zobrist-type of player,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We’ll see. This is not etched in stone. This is something we’re trying, and we’ll see how it goes.”
The Zobrist comparison didn’t appear to ease the sting for Miller.
“He’s a great player,” Miller said, “and he’s invaluable, but I wouldn’t want to pigeonhole myself to anything. I’m 25 years old. I’m still young in my career. Yes, a player who can play a lot of positions is very valuable.
“But also, a player who is an All-Star shortstop is very valuable. That’s kind of how I look at it. I don’t think you can compare yourself to anybody.”
Whatever his disappointment, Miller said he is committed to working hard to master his new role.
“I’m a professional,” he said, “and this is my job. They’re my boss. If they say `do this,’ that’s what I do. It’s pretty simple from that (perspective). You’ve just got to be a professional about it.”
For now, it appears Miller will concentrate on playing the outfield, but McClendon envisions a player who can play all four infield positions as well.
“When you talk about putting a club together,” McClendon said, “one thing any manager would love to have is a super utility guy who can play a lot of different positions, hit left-handed and has power.
“He certainly fits that mold.”
Outfield coach Andy Van Slyke, for now, plans simply to observe Miller during pre-game workouts.
“I sort of equate it to watching a pony being born,” Van Slyke said. “You’ve got to watch them run before you can train them. What I’m doing is just letting him do his thing right now and see how he reacts.
“I don’t know what he does correct or incorrect yet. I’m going to let him do what he does naturally first. If there’s no correction, then he’s a born outfielder.”
McClendon believes the switch could unlock Miller’ potential as a hitter.
“I played the infield,” McClendon said, “and when I went to the outfield, the game slowed down considerably and, as a result, I became a better offensive player.
“I think this will help Brad as well. It’s probably difficult to see right now, but playing the outfield may have its advantages for him. I think he’s talented enough to (play several positions).”
FULFILLING A PLEDGE
Did members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America do the Mariners a favor by not choosing Felix Hernandez as last year’s Cy Young Award winner?
Flip back to last Nov. 12 and Hernandez’s words shortly after the BBWAA enraged Mariners’ fans by choosing Cleveland’s Corey Kluber as the Cy Young winner.
“I don’t know what to say,” Hernandez said. “That was tough. I’m a little disappointed, but you know what? It just gives me more motivation to work harder and to be better next year.”
That seemed a high goal after a season in which Hernandez went 15-6 with a league-leading 2.14 ERA and set a record with 16 consecutive starts of pitching at least seven innings and allowing two or fewer runs.
Hernandez is 5-0 for the first time in his career after holding the Angels to one run over seven innings in Monday’s 3-1 victory. He also has a 1.73 ERA through six starts (and he handed over a lead in his only no-decision).
A year ago through six starts, Hernandez was 3-1 with a 2.40 ERA.
BEIMEL’S STORMY SPRING
Lefty reliever Joe Beimel, now back with the Mariners, learned a hard lesson this spring that, contrary to what often gets said, Cactus League performances, even for veterans, often do matter.
Beimel, 38, became a free agent last winter following a terrific bounce-back season in which he compiled a 2.20 ERA for the Mariners in 56 appearances.
He then sought a multi-year deal but, when no such offers materialized, he agreed March 6 to a non-guaranteed, one-year contract with Texas that would pay him $1.5 million if he made the big-league roster.
Beimel lasted just three brutal spring outings prior to getting released. He attributes the problem to a need to work on his slider, a key pitch for him in left-on-left match-ups.
“It was spring training,” he said. “It was practice. I was facing a lot of righties, and I was pitching in on them, throwing a lot sliders in on them. Stuff I normally wouldn’t do, but I had to get those pitches going.
“I guess Texas took it pretty serious. I wasn’t out there trying to give up runs by any means. But I’ve been around long enough that I knew what I needed to do to get ready. After three innings, that was it.”
Now…Beimel did give up 14 runs, 11 earned, in those three outings. He got released March 23 but signed a minor-league deal on April 2 with the Mariners.
He then honed that slider in extended spring training before the Mariners transferred him to Triple-A Tacoma. Beimel made three scoreless appearances for the Rainiers prior to his Monday promotion.
“Probably my last three or four games in extended,” he said, “I was feeling really good. I was feeling I could have come here. They wanted to see more. I went (to Tacoma) and just pitched like I have been.”
Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen is scheduled to take the next step Wednesday in his recovery from a hyperextended right elbow by pitching a simulated game (facing hitters under game-like conditions).
Wilhelmsen experienced no problems last weekend in Houston while throwing from a mound in bullpen workouts. Barring any setbacks, he remains on schedule for a mid-May return to active duty.
Look for just-promoted Mark Lowe to function as a one-inning reliever.
“I think he’s flexible enough to go multiple innings,” McClendon said, “but I don’t foresee that happening.”
The Mariners selected Lowe’s contract from Tacoma prior to Monday’s game after clearing space on their 40-man roster by placing Rainiers outfielder Julio Morban on the restricted list.
Lowe, 31, is a nine-year veteran who returned last December to the Mariners by signing a minor-league contract. He opened the season at Tacoma, where he allowed one run in nine innings over seven outings.
Texas claimed left-hander Mike Kickham on waivers one day after the Mariners designated him for assignment in order to clear space on their 40-man roster for Beimel.
Kickham, 26, was 0-2 with a 7.29 ERA in five starts at Triple-A Tacoma while allowing an astounding 28 walks in 21 innings. The Mariners acquired him in from the Cubs in a Jan. 14 trade for pitcher Lars Huijer.
The Rangers assigned Kickham to Triple-A Round Rock.
TRACKING THE BOOMSTICK
***The average distance of Nelson Cruz’s 14 homers, according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, is 398.9 feet. He also has four homers of 425 feet or farther.
***Cruz entered Tuesday leading the majors with 11 game-winning RBIs and 14 go-ahead RBIs. Seven of his 14 homers have given the Mariners on top.
***Eleven of Cruz’s 14 homers have been with the bases empty.
It was 32 years ago Wednesday — May 6, 1982 — that Gaylord Perry got his 300th career victory by pitching a complete game in a 7-3 victory over the New York Yankees at the Kingdome.
Perry, now 76, spent parts of two seasons with the Mariners in his 22-year career. He retired after the 1983 season with a record of 314-265 and was elected in 1991 to the Hall of Fame.
The Mariners and Angels tied a major-league record Monday by combining for five home runs as the only scoring in the game. It has been done on seven previous occasions…Monday’s victory was the fourth in Mariners’ history when the game ended on a caught-stealing…Felix Hernandez got his 130th career victory on Monday, which ties Randy Johnson for second place on the Mariners’ all-time list. Jamie Moyer is first at 145.
The Mariners conclude their 10-game trip at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday when they play the Angels at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif.
Roenis Elias (0-1, 3.86) will face C.J. Wilson (1-2, 2.73) in a match-up of left-handers. Wilson’s only victory this season came April 7, when he pitched eight innings in LA’s 2-0 victory at Safeco Field.
The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710 ESPN.