Miller feels seasoned in opening day debut

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.comApril 1, 2014 

ANAHEIM, Calif. — It seemed strange in some ways Monday for Mariners shortstop Brad Miller.

It was his first opening day in the big leagues and he still felt like a veteran compared with some teammates.

“It’s weird,” he admitted. “There are a lot of guys who I’ve played at every level with. Guys like (pitcher Roenis) Elias and Romo (outfielder Stefen Romero). I’ve played with them since (Low-A) Clinton.

“Then (High-A) High Desert, (Double-A) Jackson and (Triple-A) Tacoma. All the way.”

Neither Elias nor Romero had spent a single day in the majors prior to Monday’s game against the Angels, which included an anticipated sellout crowd and national exposure on ESPN2.

And life is different in the big leagues. Even on little things, like how luggage, as Miller explained to one of his rookie teammates, gets delivered to each player’s room.

That doesn’t happen in the minors.

Miller isn’t much more than a rookie himself, but his résumé shows 76 big-league games — and that makes a difference.

He batted .265 with eight homers and 36 RBIs after arriving last year from Tacoma and was picked as the American League’s player of the week for July 15-21.

The last Mariners rookie to win that award was Ken Griffey Jr.

“No question, it helped a ton (to spend time last year in the majors),” Miller said. “I got to come here (to Anaheim) one time. It’s just being familiar with the clubhouse and where everything is. How the hotels work.

“That stuff are the little things that can take your focus away from the game. Knowing that stuff, now I can focus on just getting ready. And that’s the bigger thing, just being comfortable with the surroundings.”

Even so, there was no guarantee Miller would be around for Monday’s opener. When the Mariners signed second baseman Robinson Cano, that forced Miller to battle displaced Nick Franklin for duty at shortstop.

Miller held the job by batting .410 in spring training with 14 extra-base hits. The Mariners confirmed the obvious last week by optioning Franklin to Tacoma just prior to breaking camp.

“They both played extremely well,” manager Lloyd McClendon said at the time, “but Brad separated himself. I’d be a fool if I tell you he didn’t. I think we all saw that. He deserves the opportunity, and he’s getting it.”

So, yes, Miller enters the season brimming with confidence.

“Obviously, I’m here (on the big-league club),” he said. “In the offseason, I had a goal to get stronger and work on some things. I was able to see a little bit (of a payoff) in spring.

“That kind of gets me excited. I want to keep that going for the season.”

McClendon also shifted Miller to the No. 2 spot in the lineup late in spring training after using third baseman Kyle Seager in that slot for much of the Cactus League schedule.

Miller batted second on Monday night.

“I like speed at the top of the order,” McClendon explained. “It’s twofold. Kyle has the ability to drive in runs. I think he’s going to be a run-producer. I want to put him in a spot to drive in more runs.”

Plus, on this team, even at 24, Miller is something of a veteran.

“I’ll remember my debut for the rest of my life,” he said. “And I’ll remember today for the rest of my life. I’m so excited for (Elias and Romero).

“Last year, I got to see Abe Almonte and (Taijuan) Walker and (James) Paxton make their debut. Before that, we were watching (Mike) Zuni from Tacoma on TV. There’s nothing like it. This is where you want to be.” @TNT_Mariners

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