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Rays Tales: Tracing Brad Miller's power surge

Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Brad Miller (13) single in the fourth inning of the game between the San Diego Padres and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016.
Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Brad Miller (13) single in the fourth inning of the game between the San Diego Padres and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016.
Published Aug. 21, 2016

Rays SS-turned-1B Brad Miller doesn't like talking specifics about his hitting anyway, much less any secret to his didn't-see-that-coming power surge — going into play Saturday with 25 homers and counting, hitting balls consistently harder and farther than anyone else on the Rays and most of the American League.

For a guy who barely reached double digits in his first two big-league seasons in Seattle, and who never topped 20 combined in any of his five pro years, there certainly would seem to be something different, especially with 10 homers over his past 19 games.

Miller said there wasn't a major change in mechanics or philosophy, just the ongoing process of making adjustments over the course of a season — one that started with a miserable first month, if you remember — and finding something that worked and sticking with it.

His general explanation is he felt "locked up" early on, wanted to find something that allowed him to be "more athletic," and now feels "freed up" when he swings.

More specifically, he made a noticeable improvement in pitch selection — both in what he doesn't swing at and what he does — and reincorporated a somewhat exaggerated leg kick rather than a toe tap at the start of his swing.

"The biggest thing is you've got to be comfortable," Miller said. "I wanted to go up there and have a free mind and just say, 'Okay, hit the ball hard,' where I'm focusing on the pitcher rather than focusing on what I'm doing, and that has allowed me to kind of run with that.

"Basically, I just want to max out on those balls in the zone. You've got to hit them, that's the first part. And I want to hit them as hard as I can."

View from the side

Here is what others are seeing, and saying, about Miller's success:

DH Logan Morrison, former Mariners/current Rays teammate: "He's always had that kind of juice. It's just, why hasn't he put it together. In my opinion it's that he wasn't swinging at strikes often enough, or he wasn't swinging at pitches he could drive often enough. Now he's grinding out at-bats, and the homers are there because of the patience he's shown. …

"From the mechanics side, he would go from not picking his leg up and no stride to toe tap to the leg kick. When he went to that, I was like, 'Dude, don't ever get off that.' And he's done a great job with it."

Derek Shelton, Rays hitting coach: "We knew he was extremely strong with his hands, and we knew he was going to hit the ball really hard. … The angle he initially creates within his setup and the path that he takes allows him to catch the ball out front and, more so, allows him to continue through the ball. … He has a swing that stays in the zone a long time and stays through the ball. And he creates backspin because his hands are so good."

Jack Zduriencik, former Mariners GM: "He always had pop in his bat. … Raw power. … I never looked at Brad Miller as being a 'power guy,' but I looked at Brad Miller as a guy who would someday possibly hit 20-25 home runs because you'd see these bombs he hit in batting practice. So much of it is being able to make adjustments as a big-league hitter. … He's a great kid and a great worker. … And he doesn't doubt himself."

Kevin Cash, Rays manager: "He's hitting the ball just as hard as we anticipated him hitting it. The trajectory, the angle of the ball coming off his bat has definitely helped. … I don't think there's anything different with his swing path. He's pretty flat through the zone, that's why balls take off."

RHP Danny Farquhar, former M's/current Rays teammate: "I would say it's confidence. … He's always been a powerful, strong guy. I just think it's all coming together. … It's snowballed into a four-hole, power-hitting first baseman."

More on Miller

AU NATURAL: Miller is one of the few major-leaguers who doesn't use batting gloves. "I've never worn 'em," he said. "I don't like the feel. Batting gloves are cool. They look awesome. But personally I feel like I'm wearing oven mitts or something."

WITH HARMONY: His walkup song is Tha Crossroads by the Cleveland-based hip-hop group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. "When you hear a good one, it's something that can get you going," he said. "I've liked this one. It's been good. And I've been riding it out."

O-TOWN: Miller grew up and still lives (in his parents' house) a few blocks from Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.'s estate in Winder­mere, near Orlando. Miller had the chance with the Mariners to talk with Griffey about their hometown — "He's my hero, so that was pretty cool" — but has yet to score an invite. … Miller played at Orlando's Olympia High, while former Mariners and current Rays teammate Nick Franklin graduated from Lake Brantley High.

WILD CHILD: Miller wears a buzz cut these days, but he showed up in spring training 2015 with hair so long — Taylor Motter long — that the M's made him cut it. "I started it the year before and I was hitting, so I grew it out and didn't stop," Miller said. "It got out of control. It was long. I had to cut it. And I was like, once I cut it, I'm buzzing it. I'm a buzz guy. It was a phase."

ALSO: Wears No. 13 because it was his dad's number at the University of Northern Iowa, and he considers it "the luckiest" number. … Went to Clemson, teamed with Rays prospect Richie Shaffer, was ACC player of the year and first-team All-American in 2011, then a second-round pick. … Drafted by Rangers in 39th round out of high school but didn't sign.

Short stops

• Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg is considered close with commissioner Rob Manfred, but would he go along with ideas being tossed around such as limiting pitching changes and defensive shifts, given those are the kinds of maneuvers that have helped the Rays be competitive?

• Though last again in the majors, the Rays are on pace for a slight attendance increase (4.5 percent) over 2015. Sternberg said they'll stick with new chief business officer Jeff Cogen's plan of discounted tickets and promoted specials, saying it created "good energy in the organization" though it did not "move the needle much."

Rays rumblings

Displaced 1B and free-agent-to-be Logan Morrison sure seems like a guy the Rays would look to move to a contender this month. … The plan to offer a two-season price lock on season ticket renewals and new purchases is innovative; now the question is how it will be received. … Whomever or whatever part of the process is to blame, the Rays make way too many mental mistakes. … Congrats to former Rays executive and Dunedin product Tim Wilken, who Friday was deservedly inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame in Fort Myers. … When RHP Alex Cobb rejoins the rotation, potentially in the next week, it seems to make the most sense to go to a six-man rotation. … Kevin Kiermaier was the centerfield choice on the All-World defensive team. … Former Ray Aubrey Huff is completing his life-story book, Invincible.