Millar seeking answers at plate
Notoriously slow starter in April, first baseman glad it's May
ANAHEIM -- If nothing else, Kevin Millar can be content with the recent change of the calendar. Baltimore's first baseman has traditionally slumped during the season's first month, a fact that has given him solace for the last few weeks. Millar hit just .222 in April, and he's as mystified as anyone over the roots of his early struggles.
"The good thing is I've been through this before in around eight of my 10 years in the big leagues," he said before Sunday's game. "I don't know why, because I've tried every different scenario. Like Adam LaRoche said, 'I've tried to hunt less, and I've hunted more.' I've hit more and I've hit less in the offseason. I've lifted before games and I've lifted after games.
"April's been a miserable scene, and it's been like that for eight of the 10 years. I went back and looked at the computer and wanted to know how far off I was, but I'm right where I am every April."
Millar's analysis is on the mark. The veteran has a career April batting average of .248, which is significantly worse than his career average (.280) or the next closest month (a .272 average in August). He's batted below .250 during the first month in five of the last six seasons and has never batted higher than .231 in April during his three years as an Oriole.
But despite the early struggles, Millar can't be classified as a second-half hitter. His career numbers show virtually the same splits in average and on-base percentage before the All-Star break (.278 and .362, respectively) as they do afterwards (.283 and .365), and Millar knows that his slump can end and turn into a streak with little or no advance notice.
"The bottom line is that it takes one pitch or one something to lock in," he said. "It just happens, and you just have to keep your head above water and keep grinding this thing out. It's not fun, but you handle it professionally and you keep battling. And the next thing you know you're 40 for your next 100 and everything comes together."
Millar said he isn't fatigued from playing nearly every day and doesn't think a rest would help him reset his batting stroke. He said that he just needs to get a few positive results, and to do that, he needs to keep plugging away.
"When you're in a rut offensively, you want to see a pitcher [throw] strike one," he said. "And then you foul off the next pitch. You're 0-2 like that. And you become a victim of good pitching when you're struggling. When you're hot, every 1-2 or 0-2 pitch is hung. Every 2-0 count is a four-seamer down the middle. They're missing their spots, and that's how you get hot.
"My biggest thing right now that kind of made me angry is I'm swinging at bad pitches to drive. ... For instance, yesterday there was a 2-0 pitch from [Jon] Garland, and that's not my pitch to hit. I still hit it and flew out to center. That's when I know things aren't right. I have a pretty good idea of the strike zone, and I haven't done a good job of laying off."
Baltimore manager Dave Trembley agreed with the veteran's assessment, but he's temporarily moved him out of the cleanup slot in an effort to get him going somewhere else. For now, though, Millar's going to keep on getting at-bats.
"I don't think he would benefit from time on the bench because he wants to play," he said. "I don't think Kevin Millar is the Lone Ranger in this regard. We've had a lot of guys trying to find their way and get through this. And I'm sure they will."
Millar may have gotten the positive results he was looking for on Sunday, drilling RBI singles in the first and fifth innings. Baltimore scored two runs in that first-inning rally, but the Angels pulled away in the bottom half. Millar has consistently said that the team's success is more important than any individual, but that doesn't mean he's taking his struggles lightly.
"I'm taking it as good as you can take it," he said before the game. "Bottom line, it ain't fun to hit .200."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.