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Why Brad Miller needed his three-homer game almost as much as the Phillies did | Extra Innings

The veteran utilityman recently went through a 23-day span in which he didn’t get a hit. “It was eating me up inside,” he said.

With three homers Thursday night at Wrigley Field, Brad Miller became the first Phillies player to have a three-homer game since Jayson Werth on May 16, 2008, at Citizens Bank Park.
With three homers Thursday night at Wrigley Field, Brad Miller became the first Phillies player to have a three-homer game since Jayson Werth on May 16, 2008, at Citizens Bank Park.Read moreCharles Rex Arbogast / AP

In Joe Girardi’s early years as manager of the New York Yankees, critics derided him as “Binder Joe” for how frequently he would base his moves on statistics that he kept in a nearby loose-leaf.

Sometimes, though, the binder has all the right answers.

Girardi ran the numbers and decided that Brad Miller had to be in the lineup last night, based on Cubs starter Adbert Alzolay’s drastic struggles with left-handed hitters. Miller started at first base in place of Rhys Hoskins, and sure enough, he hit three homers in an 8-0 thrashing of the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

The Phillies won a road series for only the second time all season. They scored 39 runs in the four games against the floundering Cubs. At 42-43, they’re four games behind the NL East-leading New York Mets entering tonight’s series opener in Boston before the All-Star break.

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Brad Miller’s role may be about to increase

BOSTON -- Brad Miller doesn’t play every day for the Phillies, so when he goes a few games without getting a hit, even a minislump can seem almost endless.

Imagine, then, what 0-for-23 must have felt like.

“It was eating me up inside,” Miller said.

Such is the life of a bench player. In a span of 23 days, from June 9 through July 1, Miller got a total of 30 plate appearances and not a single hit. He struck out 12 times. The Phillies had seven days off in June, an unusual amount of inaction for one month, so playing time was even more scarce. Miller made only eight starts all month, and a player can only take so much batting practice to try and stay sharp.

Maybe that’s what made Thursday night so special. With his parents in the grandstand at Wrigley Field, Miller tested the Phillies’ inventory of straw home-run hats. They have four of them. He became the first Phillies player in 13 years — since Jayson Werth on May 16, 2008 — to go deep three times in a game and fueled a series-clinching, 8-0 victory over the stick-a-fork-in-them Cubs, who have lost 12 of their last 13 games.

”I was told there was one [hat] left,“ Miller said, “so I was trying to earn that fourth one.”

Regardless, the trio of dingers marked Miller’s first home runs since a two-run shot on June 6 at home against the Washington Nationals. But it was the second time in a week that he delivered a big hit. His 10th-inning double last Friday night capped a 4-3 walk-off victory over the San Diego Padres.

“It’s worth it, all the work we’re putting in with [hitting coach] Joe [Dillon] and [assistant] Pedro [Guerrero],” Miller said. “As hard and as frustrating as it is to have a couple weeks there where I didn’t feel like I contributed at all, you kind of just turn the page, I guess, and say, ‘Hey, I’m focusing on the future.’ To be able to contribute, it feels really nice to show our work is paying off.”

The Phillies need Miller, too. They gave him $3.5 million to return as a free agent because he came up with big hits down the stretch in 2019. And while at-bats are harder to come by now that the lineup is finally healthy, Miller can help keep the Phillies at full strength by coming off the bench to give someone an occasional rest, whether it’s left fielder Andrew McCutchen, second baseman Jean Segura, or first baseman Rhys Hoskins. He could even wind up as the lefty-hitting alternative to struggling third baseman Alec Bohm.

Despite his June swoon, Miller is batting .260 with nine homers, 25 RBIs, and an .827 OPS in 170 plate appearances. He strikes out a lot (32.9% of the time this season) but that’s partly because he’s unafraid to take big swings.

“I’m always going up there to hit a home run. Seriously,” Miller said in an admission reminiscent of former Phillies pinch-hitter extraordinaire Matt Stairs. “I think I need to take that mind-set in there. Do damage. Get a pitch that I can drive. I’m looking to impact the baseball.”

Miller has 21 home runs in 300 plate appearances over his two stints with the Phillies. Including last season, when he went deep seven times in 171 plate appearances for the St. Louis Cardinals, he has a .517 slugging percentage in his last 126 games.

“It’s huge value,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s somewhat versatile. In some of the American League parks, you can DH him. He’s a really good pinch-hitter off the bench. Those aren’t easy situations because a lot of times, you’re facing really tough pitchers. He’s really important to us.”

There figure to be at-bats for Miller this weekend at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. The Phillies will have use of the designated hitter and plan to use it to give various players a breather. Bryce Harper was the DH on Friday night, which meant Miller played right field. Miller likely will be the DH Sunday against Red Sox right-hander Nick Pivetta, the ex-Phillies pitcher.

Beyond the weekend in Boston, after the four-day All-Star break, the Phillies play 24 games in 24 days. The light schedule in June is long gone. They’re into the meat of the season, and as the biggest bat off the bench, Miller’s profile is about to increase.

“To survive the season everybody’s got to contribute, right?” Miller said. “To be able to give Rhys a day off, he’s been grinding. He’s a big dude, but we ride him pretty hard. To be able to come up with a comfortable win and kind of separate there, I think it really gives Cutch and Hos a nice physical and mental break there and they can refresh and get ready.”

Miller needed a few big hits for his own mental health. A three-homer night at Wrigley, where he attended a game with his family when he was in high school, likely did the trick.

“It was really special,” said Miller, a native of Orlando, Fla. “The third one, being able to see them going crazy up there was pretty sweet. I’m lucky. It felt like I was dreaming, for sure.”

The rundown

How did a phone call from Girardi help J.T. Realmuto identify a flaw in his swing? Matt Breen has all the details here.

The MLB draft begins Sunday night, and here’s Bob Brookover with a terrific look at a local training site co-owned by Phillies farmhand Mike Adams that has helped turn out the most talented crop of amateur players in our area’s history.

Phillies amateur scouting director Brian Barber handicapped this year’s draft class. Spoiler: There’s a lot of talent out there.

Speaking of the draft, here are a couple of recent stories on the Phillies’ last two No. 1 picks: Mick Abel and Bryson Stott.

Important dates

Tonight: Vince Velasquez opens a series at Fenway Park, 7:10 p.m.

Tomorrow: Matt Moore vs. Red Sox lefty Martín Pérez, 4:10 p.m.

Sunday: Aaron Nola vs. ex-Phillie Nick Pivetta in Boston finale, 1:10 p.m.

Tuesday: Zack Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto at All-Star Game in Denver, 7:30 p.m.

Friday: The Phillies host the Marlins in a doubleheader, 4:05 p.m.

Stat of the day

If you read Extra Innings, you must love baseball. If you love baseball, you probably enjoy the history of the game. And it doesn’t get more historic than a week at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.

This Phillies road trip marks the sixth time in 100 years that a team has played consecutive series at the venerable ballparks in Chicago and Boston, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, which isn’t all that surprising since interleague play wasn’t introduced until 1997. But the Phillies have done it before. They went 2-2 against the Cubs and 2-0 against the Red Sox from June 18 to 23, 1998. Scott Rolen homered in both Wrigley and Fenway.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: “Should they bother upgrading the bullpen if they’re still close to the Mets in a couple weeks? Are they so worse in other ways that it wouldn’t matter?”

@Hockeyjunkie88, via Twitter

Answer: Great question. Thanks for sending it and for reading.

If I’m Dave Dombrowski, yes, I definitely add a reliever before July 30 if the NL East title is within reach. Look, as I wrote recently, the Phillies have a lot of issues, including a defense that can’t be fixed in one trade deadline and maybe not even one offseason. But they also haven’t made the playoffs since 2011. They lead the majors with 22 blown saves. Cut that in half, and they’re on the Mets’ tail.

Another late-inning reliever doesn’t turn the Phillies into a World Series contender, but maybe it gets them into the postseason. And that isn’t nothing.