NEW YORK – By Thursday, Brad Miller will have had more than enough time to mull over the start to his 2014 season.
After a brilliant spring training where he ran away with the starting shortstop competition almost as quickly as it started, Miller has struggled in the first 25 games of the season. He’s played in 22 games and is hitting .174 (15 for 86) with a .211 on-base percentage and a .327 slugging percentage. Worse, he’s struck out 26 times in 90 plate appearances.
Five of his 15 hits this season came in the first three games of the season, when he also hit two homers in a game. He had just one hit in his past 22 at-bats going into Sunday.
His swing was tentative. His plate discipline was meandering. And his pitch recognition was nonexistent.
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“It’s been frustrating,” Miller said before Tuesday’s game. “Just very frustrating.”
With Miller clearly fighting himself at the plate, manager Lloyd McClendon decided to give him a break, starting Willie Bloomquist in his place on Sunday and Tuesday.
Coupled with the off day on Monday, Miller used the time to think back on the things that have gone right and all the things that have gone wrong.
“Having a couple days when I’m not in the starting lineup, I have to use them to reflect on what I’ve been doing, what I need to do better and what I need to focus on,” he said.
He didn’t find an epiphany in those three days. He did find a little clarity — something he’d been lacking in his at-bats.
“I would go up there with a plan and I just wouldn’t execute it,” he said. “And I’d be wondering, ‘Why?’ I think it was a lot of buildup and clutter in my thinking.”
It happens when a player is slumping. And for Miller, this has been one of the worst slumps of his professional career.
“I feel like I have been expanding the strike zone and getting myself out a lot,” he admitted. “Some of my at-bats haven’t been very good. It’s not that I’m not just getting hits but I’m not putting competitive at-bats together.”
It’s something that happens with every hitter during the course of the season. Robinson Cano admitted to doing the same thing a few weeks ago. But he has nine years of major-league experience to help him work out of it.
Miller kept watching his batting average sink and his strikeouts increase and began to press at the plate.
“It’s a stat-driven game and performance-driven and you want to do well and put up good numbers,” he said. “I can’t tell you I don’t care about it, because I do. It’s a reflection of how you’ve performed so far.”
Miller didn’t like that reflection and tried to change it in the wrong ways.
“It was a part of doing too much,” he said. “I see I’m not hitting what I want to be hitting and I think to myself that I have go out and get nine hits in a game instead of just having good at-bats.”
So what can he do?
“I want to get my focus back to something small and remove the clutter,” he said. “I just need to clear my head and get back to seeing the ball. I know it sounds simple, but recognize the pitch instead of going up there and guessing.”
Miller has always been an aggressive hitter. But his pitch selection of late has been beyond that.
“I just want to get back to seeing the ball and swinging at the right pitches, because those are the ones you hit hard,” he said.
But it’s not that simple. Pitchers have been able to get him out with pitches out of the zone. They won’t change until he does.
“You earn good pitches to hit by taking some tough pitches,” he said.
Miller used Justin Smoak’s two-run double against Neal Cotts in the Mariners’ win over Texas on Friday night as an example,
“He takes that tough cutter inside on 2-2 and earned himself a fastball over the middle of the plate,” Miller said. “I have to start taking some tough pitches to get good pitches to hit.”
M’s rained out
As expected, nonstop rain forced the postponement of the Mariners’ game Wednesday night against the Yankees.
The game will be made up on Monday, June 2, at Yankee Stadium with a 7:05 p.m. start. The Mariners were scheduled to be off that day and open a two-game series against the Braves in Atlanta on June 3.
With the Mariners already scheduled to play a doubleheader on this trip in Oakland, playing a second twin bill would have been too much.
The team announced that left-hander Roenis Elias, who was scheduled to start Wednesday, will start Thursday. The Yankees were going to use reliever David Phelps on Wednesday because of the suspension to Michael Pineda. But now they will start Hiroki Kuroda, who was scheduled to start on Thursday anyway.
The Mariners confirmed that Felix Hernandez would start Friday night in Houston. But the rest of the starting pitching probables for the Houston series are listed as “to be announced.”
This is the first rainout for the Mariners in New York since June 7, 2003, while playing the Mets. It’s the first rainout against the Yankees since May 18, 1988.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @RyanDivish