The shortstop knew there would be ups and downs last season. But knowing they’d happen and knowing how to deal with them, he learned, aren’t the same thing.
The picture on the video board at Safeco Field during the Mariners’ season-opening series showed the “old’’ Brad Miller, the one with hair flowing from his cap as wildly as his legs churn on the basepaths.
In the batter’s box, meanwhile, stood the new-look Miller, hair freshly cut, some still creeping out the back of his helmet but hardly enough to really notice.
It’s a look that appears to go with what Miller, 25, says also is an evolving approach to baseball now that he’s in his second full season in the major leagues.
“I just feel more grown-up,’’ said Miller, who for the second consecutive year was the team’s opening-day shortstop. “And kind of more mature. That’s the word I’ve been using.’’
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The new look might mirror the new attitude, but Miller says it’s merely a coincidence. The haircut came late in spring training for one simple reason.
“I was told to cut it by (manager) Lloyd McClendon,’’ Miller said. “So I’m going to listen to him.’’
And the reason given by McClendon?
“He just said I needed to cut it,’’ Miller said.
Miller said it was no big deal.
“It’s just hair, at the end of the day,’’ Miller said.
But some lessons learned about Major League Baseball in the past year, he thinks, are here to stay. Miller hit .400 (4 for 10 with a home run) on the Mariners’ first homestand.
A small sample size, to be sure. But that comes on the heels of a decent-enough spring (.283 average, two home runs in 46 at-bats) and a strong finish to the 2014 season. He hit .350 with an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .866 in the final 17 games last year.
That stretch capped a roller-coaster season for Miller, who got off to a similarly hot start in 2014 against the Angels, hitting two home runs in the second game of the season after hitting .410 in the spring.
Then came a swift fall, as Miller hit .136 in May, a jarring dose of baseball reality for a guy who had not hit less than .294 at any level before reaching the majors and had hit .265 in his first 76 games in the majors in 2013.
Miller knew there would be ups and downs. But knowing they’d happen and knowing how to deal with them, he learned, aren’t the same thing.
“I think the biggest thing I learned is just honestly taking it one day at a time,’’ he said. “It’s something we say a lot in the baseball world. It’s kind of cliché, but it can hold true. So you have to think of just really focusing on the challenge at hand and worrying about that and not trying to get too far ahead of myself.’’
He now realizes that was something he struggled with last season.
“Yeah for sure, that’s something I feel I’ve matured as far as perspective on it,’’ he said. “You want to do well and that can kind of avalanche and you get yourself into some bad habits, and you press, and you start worrying about the future rather than just taking care of your business at hand. So that’s something you’ve got to use, that experience, and learn from it.’’
It was something he said sunk in after watching how more experienced players — Robinson Cano, Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Seager — dealt with the inevitable ups and downs last season, something he drew on as he raised his average from .151 in late May to .221 at the end of the season.
“They are very workmanlike,’’ Miller said. “They show up and prepare the right way and kind of just go out there and play and let the chips fall where they may.’’
It’s an example Miller promises to follow when the hot start inevitably cools. Miller owns the shortstop job for now with Chris Taylor out another month or so because of a broken bone in his wrist. But that situation also is one he said he’ll keep out of mind.
“I’m going to hit how I’m going to hit, and I’m going to throw how I’m going to throw,’’ he said. “Now it’s just being consistent to get the results and dealing with the success and dealing with stubbing your toe and kind of rolling with it.’’