KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon doesn’t dance with his words. So when the topic turned to the improved play of shortstop Brad Miller, McClendon offered two succinct thoughts.
First, Miller is playing the way the Mariners thought he should all along. Miller crossed the Mendoza Line for the first time in two months after getting two more hits in the 2-1 victory over Kansas City on Saturday to raise his average to .202. Second, Miller has a ways to go.
“I don’t have this great revelation, if that’s what you’re asking me,” McClendon said about Miller’s recent uptick. “I don’t. I think he’s a certain type of player, and I’m still waiting to see it.”
To make his point, McClendon brought up Miller’s production in the minors: a .334 career batting average and .925 OPS.
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“You don’t see those kinds of numbers in the minor leagues,” McClendon said. “Not even from a Robby Cano.”
And it is on those numbers, and the potential they hint at, through which McClendon views Miller. Miller’s struggles at the plate have been well documented, and it got to the point that McClendon benched Miller for three games near the end of May.
In 23 games since then, Miller is hitting .291 with three homers. He’s also seeing more pitches, McClendon said.
“I feel more comfortable in there,” Miller said. “I feel a little more like myself. But just battling. That’s part of it.”
Miller’s numbers won’t blow anyone away, but they mark a steady improvement for a player whose average had bottomed out at .151 near the end of May.
“At the time, I wanted to play,” Miller said. “I was confident in myself and wanted to help. But he gave me that time, and I used it. I used it to slow down and regroup.”
Miller’s defense also has improved. He has committed just one error in the past 23 games; he had eight in the 40 before that.
“The one thing we forget, particularly with young players, when they’re not hitting, it’s hard to play the game of baseball,” McClendon said. “It’s really hard because nothing is going right. When you start to get a few hits, your confidence goes up and you relax in the field.”
Had the Mariners not just taken the lead — or had they lost it later in the game — a ninth-inning miscue would have drawn plenty more attention.
Here’s what happened: With two outs, Dustin Ackley was on first and Stefen Romero was on third. On the pitch, Ackley took off for second and Romero moved down the line toward home.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez pump-faked and held on to the ball, and Romero was eventually picked off after a lengthy rundown to end the inning. McClendon took the blame for the miscue.
“Really, it was my fault there,” McClendon said. “I didn’t give the proper signs to (third-base coach) Rich (Donnelly) at third to relay to the hitter. So that’s all on me. We’re trying to get a run. We just didn’t do it the right way.”
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