The Phillies signed Brad Miller to a one-year, $3.5 million contract in the offseason with the intention of using him in more than just pinch-hit situations. He has spent the majority of his career playing all around the infield, but he has 55 career games in the outfield to his name. Miller can slot in for an injured regular in the infield (and in the outfield) or as a spot starter.
Despite holding his own as a regular in the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup last season, the Phillies have had a hard time implementing him into their offense. In 13 games, Miller has had one start and nine at-bats.
The 31-year-old dealt with an oblique injury during spring training. According to manager Joe Girardi, the injury is a thing of the past for now.
“I feel pretty good that we’re beyond that,” Girardi said before Friday’s game. “It’s just with all the off days that we’ve had. It’s a little bit more difficult. I try to get him at least an at-bat almost every game to keep him going. We gave him three at-bats in a start.”
With postponements and the wackiness of April scheduling, the Phillies have had three off days since the start of the regular season. Yet there were a few instances where Girardi could have started Miller but opted against it.
One of those was Wednesday night against the Mets facing left-handed starter David Peterson. Didi Gregorius was granted an off day and the Phillies replaced him at shortstop with Ronald Torreyes. It was a pick your poison situation for Girardi. Torreyes has a .609 career OPS against lefties while Miller sits at .618. Maybe the Phillies are better off defensively with Torreyes at short and Jean Segura remaining at second as opposed to Miller at second and Segura at short, but the fact remains that the Phillies paid Miller the big bucks to play in these situations. With the offense struggling as badly as it was during the Mets series, it’s a better bet to go with Miller.
When Andrew McCutchen has needed an off day, Girardi has preferred to go with Matt Joyce, who profiles better than Miller in the leadoff spot. It highlights an issue the Phillies have been dealing with since they signed McCutchen in December 2018. Outside of him, the Phillies don’t have a prototypical leadoff hitter.
After McCutchen was ruled out for the rest of the 2019 season, the Phillies relied on a combination of Segura, César Hernández, Scott Kingery, Corey Dickerson, Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and Roman Quinn. They combined for a .225/.295/.394 slash line in the leadoff spot following McCutchen’s injury. Back in 2019, Miller played 15 games in left field, with most of them coming in September following an injury to Dickerson. The difference now though is Girardi’s steadfast approach. Gabe Kapler was more willing to throw darts at the situation and see which ones stuck.
Right now, Girardi isn’t comfortable with the idea of anyone besides McCutchen or Joyce leading off. It puts Miller in a tough spot because spot starting for McCutchen, especially with a right-handed starter on the mound, is a possible path for more playing time.
“I think I probably lean towards more playing him in the infield than the outfield and putting Joyce in the outfield,” Girardi said. “But [when] I’m going to give McCutchen a day off, that’s probably what I would lean to.”
Following an off-day next Thursday, the Phillies will embark on 17 games in 17 days, giving Miller plenty of chances to get back in the lineup. Maybe the lack of at-bats for Miller early on is a good thing. He’s expected to fill in as an everyday player in the event of an injury to any of the regulars in the infield. The Phillies would prefer to keep Segura, Hoskins, Gregorius and Alec Bohm off the IL for obvious reasons, but it’s easy to wonder if the Phillies are allocating enough at-bats to a hitter who spent half of the prior season hitting clean-up for the Cardinals, who, unlike the Phillies, made the playoffs in a 16-team pool.
“I show up ready to roll,” Miller said before his only start of the season on April 7. “I know my role is going to be fluid throughout the year. Just kind of how it always works out, so really it’s all the same for me.
“I think last night, depending on the situation, I was ready to go in at first, third and left. I want to play every game, regardless of if that’s starting or coming off the bench.”
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