Friday, January 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Home runs are one constant in Brad Miller's Rays season

ST. PETERSBURG — The list of players who have hit 30 home runs for the Rays during their 19 seasons is not long.

Evan Longoria has done it four times, Carlos Peña three, Jose Canseco, Aubrey Huff and Fred McGriff once each.

And now, somewhat unexpectedly, Brad Miller.

"I don't think anybody penciled in he was going to hit 30 home runs," manager Kevin Cash said before Thursday's 2-0 victory over the Yankees.

"But we knew this guy could hit and we're very confident that he was going to be a big a big part of our offense. And he's proven to be all of that and more."

Miller admitted to having trouble grasping the magnitude of the accomplishment immediately after hitting Nos. 29 and 30 on Wednesday, but he said it started to sink in after the hugs and kind words from his teammates — "That meant a lot to me" — and further on Thursday as he scrolled through the congratulatory texts from family, friends and former teammates.

"You look at the guys like Longo, he's done it a few times," Miller said. "Longo is special. There's a lot of special guys. So it really is — I hate when people say it — but it is a little humbling. …

"I'm just saying, this is really cool. And if you work hard and continue to do it and go out there and play here, I think good things happen."

Not much good happened at the start of this season, as Miller, acquired in a six-player November trade with Seattle, hit just one homer in his first 19 games and only five in his first 54.

In what was more the combination of small adjustments, such as adding a leg kick to his stride, rather than a seminal moment, from mid June on he hit 25 in his next 88 games — while getting moved from shortstop to first base — and hit his way into the record books. (And, with 30, surpassed his career total from 2½ seasons with Seattle.)

"I think what made him so successful this specific year was that he trusted his ability," Cash said. "Any player that doesn't have a track record coming in, it'd be very easy for them to change and make major adjustments when he struggles the way he did.

"He did not do that. He stayed kind of firm to his beliefs on hitting. There could have been minor adjustments here and there, which a lot of hitters make throughout the course of the season, but he's been the same guy from day one.

"And after Brad's credit, I think you have to credit our guys upstairs in kind of finding him and knowing that there was a good a chance of him having this success."

Miller, 27 next month, broke through at an opportune time, as he will be eligible for arbitration for the first time next season, and has put himself in line for a hefty raise from $528,000 to the $3 million to $4 million range.

"I think it's always a good time," Miller said. "If you know me, I love homers. I love when we hit homers. It's so much fun. It's hard to do, so just being able to execute feels good."

Even better to hit 30, which even in this age of inflated statistics is still a milestone number.

"Absolutely," said teammate Logan Forsythe, who has hit a career-high 19. "It's an accomplishment. I talked to Brad last month said, "Hey, man, just keep doing what you're doing." And he was talking like, 'Yeah, I want to get to 30.' "

Miller might be able to tack on a few more over the team's 10 remaining games, making this season even more special.

Of course, all of this will increase expectations for next season, when he will be penciled in — get this — as the Rays' 30-homer-swatting, cleanup-hitting first baseman.

"It's a special thing to go back and be able to do that again," Cash said. "Nobody's putting pressure on any of our guys, whether it's Longo or Brad to go hit 30 homers. But to know that he's capable of driving the ball and kind of manning the middle of our lineup, it's nice when you can go into an offseason feeling really comfortable about who you have hitting 3-4-5- in your lineup."

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

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