Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays fall to Orioles with Miller starting in leftfield

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BALTIMORE — When the Rays acquired Matt Duffy from the Giants last month and installed him as their shortstop, they shifted Brad Miller across the diamond to first base, a move he didn't take well but handled fine.

That well may still be the plan for next season, assuming Duffy recovers, as expected, from the left heel surgery that forced Miller to go back to playing some shortstop, but the Rays are exploring other options to keep Miller's potent lefty bat in the lineup.

And in Friday's tense 5-4 loss to the contending Orioles, that included starting Miller in leftfield.

"It just adds to our versatility as a team," manager Kevin Cash said. "We want to at least take this opportunity the next two weeks; he's not going to play out there every day, but when he does, it allows us to rethink maybe our roster going into 2017 and the flexibility we might have."

For now, Cash said, "I still view him as our first baseman,'' with the added, and somewhat unusual, ability to also play shortstop and the outfield.

Going into 2017, the Rays seem to be set at the four infield spots, and with Kevin Kiermaier in centerfield and Steven Souza Jr. presumably in right, that allows Corey Dickerson to be stashed safely at DH, given his increasingly obvious shortcomings on the grass.

But — if they were to be comfortable with Miller in the outfield, where he played 35 games for the Mariners last year — the Rays could at least consider picking up a first baseman in the offseason if the opportunity arose (or — in theory, anyway — giving prospects Richie Shaffer or Casey Gillaspie a chance.)

So could Miller end up the primary leftfielder?

"I personally think that would be a stretch," Cash said. "But a lot of that is kind of dictated on what we do in the offseason and what we find, whether it's through trades or free agency, what type of guys we're going to bring in for next year."

Cash has been talking with Miller about the possibility of getting in the outfield said Miller was "all for" the opportunity and "seems very eager."

Miller said "it'll be exciting to be out there" but took more of a do-what-they-say approach, borrowing an outfield glove from reliever Danny Farquhar.

"They write the lineup, and my job is to prepare and go do whatever they ask of me," Miller said.

As for the future possibilities? "You know me. I'm pretty focused on right now," he said.

Miller wasn't much of a factor during his six innings in left, botching a first-inning fly but not getting any other real action.

Elsewhere the game was exciting, as the Rays took a 4-0 lead on homers by Evan Longoria, his career-high 34th of the season, and Shaffer's first, and got a strong start from Chris Archer, but couldn't hang on.

There were several key moments as the Rays fell to 63-84.

In the seventh, Kiermaier just missed making a spectacular leaping, grand-slam-robbing catch above the centerfield wall. But even though the ball popped out of his glove as he came down, he still saved three runs.

"I'm glad I prevented a huge inning, but at the same time the competitive side of me is aggravated I didn't come up with the catch,'' Kiermaier said.

The Orioles went ahead as Brad Boxberger made a mess of the eighth, loading the bases on two walks and a hit batter, then allowing two runs on an infield single and a sac fly.

The Rays made a valiant bid in the ninth off star closer Zach Britton. Mikie Mahtook singled with two outs, then was running on the pitch when Alexei Ramirez singled to left, but throws from Michael Bourn and relay man Manny Machado nailed him at the plate for the final out. The Rays challenged the call and whether catcher Matt Wieters was blocking the plate, but replay showed it was right.

"Love the send (by third-base coach Charlie Montoyo),'' Cash said. "You have to. No-brainer right there. … It took two perfect throws, and that's what they did.''

For the Rays, these final weeks have been interesting, and with surprises.

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