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Originally published March 8, 2014 at 7:19 PM | Page modified March 10, 2014 at 12:41 AM

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Mariners’ Brad Miller seeks right tempo when fielding grounders


Seattle Times staff reporter

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — You can almost hear Brad Miller repeat the words to himself as he fields a routine ground ball in a game.

“Tempo, tempo, tempo, tempo.”

They are stuck in his mind like the refrain to a bad ’80s pop song with Mariners infield coach Chris Woodward as the lead singer.

“Tempo, tempo, tempo, tempo.”

If Miller is going to remedy some of his miscues from last season, retain the starting shortstop job and become a capable defensive player, there is one thing that will be key.

“Tempo, tempo, tempo, tempo.”

Why tempo?

Much like dancing to that bad ’80s pop song, there is a rhythm to fielding ground balls. The feet, the legs and body need to move together in a certain way at a certain pace.

Much of Miller’s struggles in the field last season came because there was no tempo or rhythm, just a hurried, manic energy.

“He’s got so much energy out there,” Woodward said. “He’s going 100 miles an hour. I want him to be calm through the ball. I want him to move quick. But when it comes to addressing the ball, especially on routine plays, to be under control. That’s going to allow him to get in line to first. It’s going to allow his arm to catch up.”

And if he rushes?

“The ball sails on him or sinks on him,” Woodward said. “That’s how silly errors are made.”

Miller knew it was happening. But it was his first year, and trying to calm himself wasn’t simple. It didn’t help that his mind was on overload at times with all the responsibilities and details that changed with each pitch.

“I learned so many little things, nuances of the game that were a lot more detailed at the big-league level,” he said. “Everything was so much more detailed, especially on defense. The game can kind of speed up on you.”

Woodward, a solid defensive shortstop during his playing days, preached it to Miller all last spring.

“You are thinking about what pitch might be called maybe two pitches ahead of time,” he said. “That’s the one thing I wanted to stress to all those guys — the more information you have, the more information you can digest, the more chances you’ve got to be in the right spot.”

Being a rookie, Miller was often uncertain if he was getting to that “right spot.” It made him rush, and mistakes would often follow.

“You can be quick without being in a hurry,” he said. “Just catch the ball and throw it over to first. No panicking.”

Woodward has reminded Miller often that he has more time than he thinks on routine ground balls.

“Guys don’t run as hard in the big leagues as they do in the minors,” he said. “For the most part, the bigger guys aren’t going to give you a 4.2 (seconds) to first. They are going to give you a 4.8 to first. So you don’t have to hurry. You can choose the hop you want. You can choose the tempo you want. As long as you are positioned in the right spot, it’s just a matter of being under control, catching the ball and sending it on its way.”

So this spring as Miller takes ground ball after ground ball, you can hear Woodward use the word tempo over and over — a not so subtle reminder.

“Sometimes with fungoes, I hit nothing but routine balls so he can get his feet down and find that tempo and timing,” Woodward said.

Manager Lloyd McClendon has said often that the shortstop who can make those routine plays consistently will be his starter.

“I like to take it a step further,” Woodward said. “Yes, we need to do that. But we also need to be prepared and processing the information to allow them to make those other plays. They will just happen. Brad has the athletic ability to make every play on the field.”

M’s 18, Giants 3

Miller and Michael Saunders each hit two-run homers off San Francisco starter Ryan Vogelsong, sparking the Mariners to a blowout win at Scottsdale Stadium. Starter Erasmo Ramirez was sharp for Seattle, pitching four scoreless innings and giving up just one hit while striking out four and walking one.

“I continue to be aggressive, thinking about first-pitch strikes, getting ahead of the hitters,” Ramirez said. “My change-up was working. My curveball was missing the strike zone. But I made the adjustment and executed pitches.”

M’s 8, Dodgers 5

Seattle completed the split squad sweep rallying from a 3-0 first-inning deficit. First baseman Jesus Montero hit a two-run homer and solo homer to lead the 10-hit attack. Justin Smoak added a two-run homer and Stefen Romero had a solo homer and double in the win. Blake Beavan got the start and went three innings giving up three runs (one earned) on three hits.

NOTES

Robinson Cano was out for a third straight day as he recovers from a root canal. Cano was at the Mariners facility and participated in a light workout. McClendon expects him to play by Monday.

• After playing catch for two days in a row, Taijuan Walker did not throw on Saturday.

• 3B DJ Peterson, the M’s top draft pick in 2013, was scratched from his start

Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373

or rdivish@seattletimes.com.



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