ST. PETERSBURG — There are times when Brad Miller is watching a college football game featuring his beloved Clemson Tigers and a wide receiver drops a pass and Miller raises his arms and yells at the TV screen, "Oh, you have to catch that ball!"
So, yeah, Miller understands the frustration of Rays fans, who impatiently wait for the second baseman to hit home runs and drive in runs like he did last summer during his breakout year.
"That's good. People care," Miller, himself a Clemson product, said. "We're going to be subject to a lot of criticism, but I guarantee you nobody cares more than I do. This is what I love doing. This is what I'm passionate about."
This season brought another position change (first base to second), two stints on the disabled list, a loss of playing time to since-traded Tim Beckham and a yearlong slump that has Miller batting .199 with four home runs and 25 RBIs heading into tonight's game against the Red Sox.
That's a far cry from last year when Miller had career highs in home runs (30) and RBIs (81).
It certainly hasn't helped that Beckham, traded to Baltimore at the July 31 trade deadline so the team could commit to Miller, won AL player of the week after hitting .583 with a 1.767 on-base-plus-slugging percentage with three home runs, three doubles, a triple and six RBIs during his first week with the Orioles. Miller was 3-for-19 during that stretch.
Baseball is a sport based on failure, where making outs in seven of 10 at-bats results in a gaudy .300 average. The backlash is not limited to opposing pitchers, who, Miller said, want nothing more than to keep a slumping hitter in that slump. There is the static from the media and those who weigh in on Twitter. Even Miller's own friends have chimed in.
Miller does his best to tune them out.
"That's just a waste of time," he said. "It's not healthy for me."
What is healthy is remaining positive (developing a "warrior's mentality," Miller said), working on fixing the problems in his swing and contributing as best he can to what Miller calls "the greater cause."
That would be the Rays' run at a postseason berth.
"Honestly," Miller said, "I'm just trying to put myself second. I haven't played how I wanted to, but it's not about me right now. It's about the team. We're right in the middle of the race. That also helps me, because I'm focusing on the Rays."
Miller works closely with hitting coach Chad Mottola. There is early hitting before batting practice on the field or in the cage. They also work on the mental side. How were the at-bats last night? What worked?
Miller reached base three times Saturday in four trips to the plate. He drew a walk and reached on an error during the first two, but it was the last two that impressed Mottola.
Miller flied out to the wall in leftfield in the seventh then drove a single off the rightfield wall with two outs in the ninth.
"And we're going to build off that," Mottola said before Sunday's game. "Start each day fresh. We had some positives (Saturday) night and go from there. Made some minor adjustments the night before and going to see them through this time and carry them over."
On Sunday, Miller walked his first time up and singled to center in his next at-bat.
"This game is mental for sure, and success breeds success," Mottola said. "As soon as a couple of things happen, a couple drop in, I don't care who you are, you breathe easier and things become easier more often. When you have a good season the year before, you set expectations higher and you want to get there, so the human side, the pressure is a little more."
Miller is not a stranger to struggles. He hit .185 with two home runs and five RBIs in April last season before he found his groove.
"I've struggled before," he said. "Last year I struggled like crazy and I overcame it and had a great year. Every year I've been moved, I've been taken out of the lineup. I've moved positions. I've been benched. I've done all of it, and I've always come out on top. You find a way, you come through it."