Sunday, July 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Still seething over move, Miller lifts Rays with home run

ST. PETERSBURG — Brad Miller is still not over the pain and extreme disappointment from Monday, when the Rays delivered what he called "a punch to the gut" in telling him he was no longer good enough to be their shortstop and would be replaced once newly acquired Matt Duffy was ready to come off the disabled list.

"I'm not going to change my perception on that whatsoever," Miller said.

As frank as Miller has been in sharing his displeasure, he has made it obvious that the onus is now on the Rays to find a way to keep his bat in their lineup, whether that's at first base — as they are talking about now — or in leftfield, or at DH, or, well, somewhere.

Miller on Thursday delivered his 19th homer — that's more than Corey Dickerson, Steven Souza Jr. and any of the other Rays' supposed sluggers not named Evan Longoria — and in dramatic fashion, a three-run shot in the eighth inning that led the Rays to a 3-2 win over the Royals.

That it gave them a split of the series with the defending champs, that it put them within one win of their first (first!) winning homestand of this lost 44-63 season, that it gave them some cushion in the "race" to stay ahead of the incoming 43-65 Twins as the AL's worst team, those were all footnotes.

This was about Miller punctuating the point that regardless of where he stands on the field or in the dugout, he has one of the most potent bats on a team in need of any — and every — enhancement it can get.

And he knows it.

"They're not doing me a favor by keeping me in the lineup," he said. "I've earned it."

Manager Kevin Cash, thrust again in that uncomfortable position between front office decisions and clubhouse reactions, said pretty much the same thing, and lauded Miller for his professionalism though the trying week.

"We're lucky to have him," Cash said. "It doesn't matter where he plays. We know his bat plays. And he's a huge part of our plans and our team going forward."

Miller is still young at 26 and, even by Rays standards, somewhat affordable for a couple of more years, eligible for arbitration for the first time next season and not a free agent until 2020. (At the very least, he could be an interesting trade chip.)

"I think I've shown them all year how valuable I am," said Miller, who has never hit more than 20 homers in a season at any level. "But at the end of the day I've got to go out and play, and that's all that matters."

When the Rays acquired the lefty-swinging Miller, along with first baseman Logan Morrison and reliever Danny Farquhar, from Seattle for starter Nathan Karns, bit part reliever C.J. Riefenhauser and now PED-suspended minor-league outfielder Boog Powell, they expected him to hit the ball hard.

But 19 home runs, with a respectable .254 average, by early August? And on a pace pushing 30 bombs, especially after hitting just two in a brutal .174 opening month?

"Probably not, because he didn't get off to the best start," Cash said. "We did have a lot of confidence, and we were very optimistic about his bat and his overall play. … The actual home run numbers probably I think you could say are a little bit of a surprise."

But deep down, Tampa Bay couldn't have been surprised by the lapses on defense, the occasionally erratic throws and the misplays and missed plays resulting in 13 errors and an AL worst -12 defensive runs. Miller lost his shortstop job with the Mariners for similar reasons, but the Rays, as most teams do, had the bravado to believe they could "fix" him.

Instead, they are going to find another spot for him.

"We're not "finding" it for him," Cash insisted semantically. "He's so valuable to our lineup. We know for us to be good, Brad Miller has to be there and be hitting right in the thick of things and doing what he's been doing all season long."

No matter where he is playing.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

     
                                                         
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