Brad Miller was an everyday player for most of his career before he arrived in Philadelphia in the summer of 2019. He had not yet purchased the bamboo plant in Chinatown that carved him a place in Phillies lore and he was finding difficulty with his new role on the bench.
“I was struggling with it mentally because none of us show up to the park to not play,” Miller said Thursday. “We show up to play.”
So he leaned on Sean Rodriguez, one of his fellow reserves, for advice. Rodriguez played 13 seasons and totaled more than 10 years of major-league service time, most of which was spent as a utility player.
“I asked him ‘What’s the deal? Do I just concede?’ He looked at me and said ‘No, I think I should be playing shortstop and batting third every day,’” Miller said. “I was like ‘OK. I needed to hear that. Because that’s how I felt.
“I get that the team might have plans for me or the media might have plans for me, but if my plan was to be a bench player, then I’m not going to play to the best of my ability. I’m trying to play well all the time.”
That mindset, more so than lucky bamboo, rejuvenated Miller. He played his way into an everyday role for the final month of the season and landed in the offseason with the Cardinals, whom he led last summer in homers after signing to be a bench player.
Miller returned to Philly to be a reserve but is playing nearly every day for a team trying to push its way into the postseason. And he’s holding his own.
“I haven’t been a bench player for months,” said the 31-year-old Miller, who entered Friday with a .959 OPS in 84 plate appearances since Aug. 24.
The Phillies signed Miller in February for $3.5 million, which was the largest they paid a bench player since giving Ty Wigginton $4 million in 2012. It already looked like a sound investment, as Miller provided manager Joe Girardi with a solid left-handed pinch-hitter who could also play multiple positions.
But Miller became even more important last month, when Rhys Hoskins underwent season-ending surgery. The Phillies were not asking Miller to replace the production of Hoskins, who led the majors in slugging percentage in the second half when he went down. But they knew they had an option waiting to play first base.
A similar situation played out at third base, where Freddy Galvis, acquired at the trade deadline to be a bench player once his groin healed, became an everyday player this month. Plans changed and the team’s decision to invest in its bench is helping the Phillies stay afloat this month.
“I think it’s really important. I don’t necessarily think that it’s undervalued. But I think it’s really important,” Girardi said of building a bench with veteran players. “You have veterans that know how to play the game, that can teach the game, that can show the younger guys how to play the game and what to expect. When we had some of our young players up here, we were saying, ‘Follow Brad around. He’s going to prepare and do things that you are not used to doing.’ So you can learn a lot from those guys.”
When the Phillies were charting their season, it’s hard to imagine they planned on having Miller and Galvis play nearly every day while they tried to chase down first place. But here they are.
Miller hit a two-out single Thursday night to get the Phils within a run of the Pirates after trailing by six and increased his OPS vs. right-handed pitchers to .850. Galvis had multiple hits in four of his last nine starts.
Galvis and Miller have been more than bench players. And for Miller, it starts by denying that you ever were one.
“I’m not as talented as Bryce [Harper] and some of these guys like [Zack] Wheeler, but if I take care of business...,” Miller said. “Look at Matt Joyce. Matt Joyce has played forever. I think it’s all based on that. It’s based on doing your job, whatever it is. Even a multi-positional player. I just want to do my job whether it’s first, left, short, I don’t care. I just want to do my job. It’s good to have as many of those types of guys. That’s what forms your team.
“We have some young guys who are showing those qualities too, they’re just not veterans. Like Matt Vierling, Luke Williams, Ranger Suarez. These guys show up, do their work. We always just tell them ‘you’re a pro, you’re a pro,’ to reinforce that you can play this game as long as you want if you handle your business like Freddy and some of these guys have.”