Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays confident in Brad Miller as he debuts at first base

TORONTO — The unfortunate fringe benefit for the Rays of Jake Odorizzi's struggles in Monday's 7-5 loss to the Blue Jays was that Brad Miller got plenty of work on some of those pesky little things at first base, like holding on runners and knowing where to be on balls hit to the outfield.

The Rays chose Monday for Miller's debut at first, deciding two sessions of work with bench/infield coach Tom Foley were enough to get him ready for the transition from shortstop in advance of Matt Duffy's arrival this week.

"It was weird, for sure," Miller said.

Overall, the first night went relatively well, as he handled three throws, a sharp ground ball, two popups and more than a half-dozen pickoff attempts of varying degrees of closeness.

"I thought he looked fine," manager Kevin Cash said. "Very comfortable."

Cash said they waited for Miller to tell them he was ready, and Foley to agree, and they are confident he can do it: "Brad's an athlete and he'll adjust and he'll be good."

Miller, candid in disagreeing with the Rays' assessment that he wasn't good enough at shortstop, said he was ready to give first a try and see what happens, using a borrowed glove.

Miller said his plan was to "keep it as simple as possible," but acknowledged there was also a lot more to think about "since I've never played it." He made a point of asking a lot of questions during the game and plans to continue. He felt he did better on balls hit to the infield.

"The thing for me that was a little uncomfortable was when the ball goes in the outfield and things start going in motion," he said. "You react from where you're comfortable at and you've really got to really think about where to be. So I know there were a couple times I've just got to be in a better spot."

The one most obvious adjustment Miller has to make is moving from the left side of the field to the right, where balls come at different angles.

The most complicated is knowing, and remembering, his responsibilities on balls hit elsewhere.

Foley said they did more talking and positioning in their crash-course sessions than actual physical work and that Logan Morrison, who had been the Rays' primary first baseman but is now on the DL, helped him teach.

But there is also a long list of "little things" that pretty much have to be experienced, such as when to stretch for a throw and when to come off the base, how hard to charge for a bunt, where to set his target for pickoff throws.

"There's a lot of things you can talk about, and you can talk until you're blue in the face, but until he gets in the game and has to see those things and react, you just have to wait for the game to play out," Foley said.

Nick Franklin and Tim Beckham earlier this season went through a similar transition as middle infielders learning first. Franklin said he, like Miller, went into it thinking it was not a big switch.

"It's all how you take it in, how much you can absorb it and how you handle it," Franklin said. "Really, it's not anything physically that's different because technically you're an athlete. So, more so, it's just mental, just remembering the little things that first basemen do during games."

Though the plan is to get Miller "a ton of reps" at first to see if it works for 2017, Cash said Miller could play short again, such as when Duffy gets a day off.

So, Miller was asked, does he view himself as a first baseman or a shortstop on temporary duty elsewhere?

"I'm playing first base today," he said. "That is literally the situation."

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

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