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Thrown into a competition for his job, Seattle's Brad Miller hopes to come out ahead

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PEORIA, Ariz. - The arrival of Robinson Cano suddenly left Brad Miller in the midst of a competition.

Throughout his first experience last season with the Seattle Mariners, Miller showed signs at the plate and in the field that he could be a long-term answer at shortstop.

And then the Mariners threw $240 million toward Cano, and Miller was left to enter spring training in a battle with teammate Nick Franklin to be the Mariners' starting shortstop.

"We know we're not going to be playing second base, one of us. That is the reality of it," Miller said Friday morning. "But I think we're both focused on putting our best, not necessarily against the other guy, but putting our best out there for the Mariners. That's pretty much the focus. We've been getting a lot of good work in."

Miller was one of the pleasant surprises to come out of another down season for the Mariners in 2013. He vaulted from Double-A at the start of the season into the Mariners' starting lineup as their everyday shortstop before the All-Star break. He brought a jolt of energy and speed to the top of the batting order and was solid in the field.

"I think I played hard. I think I did. Maybe if I had a rough stretch in the field or hitting, I think I still played with some energy and that's a big part of my game," Miller said.

Miller seemed locked into a starting job going forward, only to be thrown into a two-man race with Franklin. When Seattle made the move to sign Cano, it became obvious Franklin would be moved from second base. The question was where? Despite rumours Franklin could be traded, he was right next to Miller taking ground balls when spring training started.

The competition could have created some acrimony between the two, whose lockers sit next to each other in the Mariners' remodeled spring training clubhouse. But it hasn't.

"Yeah, we're working out at the same position but we still have the same working relationship," Miller said. "We're both helping each other out trying to get better and, honestly, it kind of feels the same as last year, we're just working together."

Each player has an advantage over the other. Franklin is a switch hitter with more power. Miller has better speed and is more solid in the field. Because of the strengths they bring, the pair rides the line in the debate about whether shortstop is still a position where defence is valued first or offence.

For Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon, shortstop remains a defence-first position, although he's not about to turn down someone who can bring the offence as well.

"I want a guy who is going to make the routine plays. When the ball is hit to short, I can turn and think about something else," McClendon said. "Ideally you like a combination of defence and offence, you'd like that at every position, but you've got to be able to catch the ball."

Miller also learned about the rigours of going through a full season last year. Between his time in the minors and the 76 games he played with the Mariners, Miller appeared in 144 games last season. In an effort to be sturdier throughout the season, Miller — who was listed at 185 pounds last season — added noticeable bulk to his frame. Miller said he's now around 210 pounds.

"I wanted to gain strength ... but I wanted to be as strong and athletic as I could," Miller said. "I was able to slowly gain some weight, but I had some time. That was the good thing about the off-season. I had four months. ... I feel good, feel the same as last year, just hopefully a lot faster and stronger."

NOTES: McClendon said he intends to keep OF Dustin Ackley strictly in left field, likely leaving the centre field job to either Michael Saunders or Abraham Almonte. ... Mariners hitting coach Howard Johnson was walking with a limp Friday after suffering a broken toe after taking a line drive off his foot during batting practice a day earlier. ... RHP Brandon Maurer was scratched from his throwing session Friday because of a sore back.

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