Mariners’ Ariel Miranda hopes his hot September is just the beginning

Sep 19, 2016, 10:27 PM | Updated: Sep 20, 2016, 8:52 am

Acquired in a deadline trade, Cuban left-hander Ariel Miranda has gone 4-0 in September. (AP)...

Acquired in a deadline trade, Cuban left-hander Ariel Miranda has gone 4-0 in September. (AP)


Ariel Miranda was thankful for the opportunity he got from the Mariners when he was called up to the big leagues after he was acquired in a trade with Baltimore on July 31. He had made his big-league debut with the Orioles earlier in the month, throwing two innings in relief against Seattle, but that was it for his cup of coffee.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto was intrigued with what he saw in Miranda. The left-hander had played baseball in the United States for less than two years, so Mariners didn’t have the knowledge of his baseball history that they have with most players. He appeared to be an unfinished product with good upside.

Develop a breaking ball and he would have a good chance at sticking in the rotation. If not, he had flashed mid-90s with his fastball and perhaps there would be an uptick in velocity as a reliever. Good options to have.

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“He’s got a little deception and he’s got a pretty good fastball,” Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. said after Miranda’s Sept. 7 start against Texas.”The biggest thing is he’s got pretty good aptitude. For a guy who may not have a lot of experience over here at this level, he’s taking and embracing things and putting it in to action quickly. He’s a good guy to work with.”

Miranda’s slider is coming along and his splitter has shown good improvement as well. He has gone 4-0 in September, allowing just six earned runs in those starts. Part of the reason for his success is the improvement in his pitches, but another part of it is his mindset.

“He believes in himself,” manager Scott Servais said following Miranda’s win against Houston on Sunday. “I think that’s half the battle. At this level, you have to believe you belong and that you can contribute on a winning team, and that’s what he is doing.”

Miranda left Cuba two years ago. Sitting down with him and interpreter Fernando Alcala last week in Anaheim, I learned that belonging and contributing to a team are high on his list of priorities. They are values he grew up with in the Mayabeque province east of Havana.

“I think the biggest thing that you will see is the sense of community that everybody has pulling for each other and knowing how to work together,” he said of his home.

Miranda first played organized baseball in Cuba when he was 11 years old. He found his first baseball experience exciting because growing up it was all he ever wanted to do. He loved baseball. His favorite player?

“CC Sabathia,” he said with a smile. “The guy that I really admired and looked up to was CC. It was just the form. I enjoyed the same mechanics. I would emulate that trying to figure that out and trying to make the same pitches he did.”

Miranda played professionally in Cuba but was not a member of the traveling national teams as he was tagged as a player who might try to defect. Traveling and winning tournaments was the only way for a ballplayer to make any significant money in Cuba, and without that option, Miranda was forced to supplement his $5 a month income by selling to local restaurants the sodas he was given at the hotels where his team stayed.

“We would get four sodas a day in the hotels and I would take them home in my backpack and sell them to the restaurants back home,” he recalled. “Four days, 16 sodas, $16.”

There was a way out, however, a way out that was easier than in the past for Cuban ball players as in 2013 the government announced that athletes would be allowed to sign contracts in foreign leagues without defecting.

“I think the biggest motivation was seeing some of my old teammates from Cuba come over here and have success that allowed me to think to myself that we played on the same level and I could have success, too,” he said. “The (outlook) economically in Cuba was not great for myself, so that obviously was a motivation as well.”

Miranda left Cuba legally but also had to leave behind a wife and twin 2-year-old boys, who were allowed to join him a year later. Signing a professional contract with the Orioles is his best baseball memory to date. But getting here and getting an opportunity was just the start of his new baseball journey.

“In Triple-A, I started to do my work and have some success, but once I got (to the big leagues), I knew I could do it because it’s not so much about the physical or the mechanical or any of that stuff; it’s all the mental stuff and once I prepared myself as knowing I could pitch in the Majors, that’s when it sort of clicked for me,” he said.

Coming to the Mariners provided an extra benefit as he now has two Cuban teammates, outfielders Leonys Martin and Guilermo Herredia, lockering not too far away from him.

“It’s great having those two guys around,” Miranda said. “They are from the same place you are and you can talk about things back home and Cuban baseball and you can also talk about the transition here and changing mentally to be able to have success in the big leagues.”

The rules are the same but the situation and surroundings different, and for Miranda, that was an adjustment.

“Mentally it is just knowing the best players in the world are here,” he said. “This is where the best baseball is played and mentally you just have to adjust to that.”

New has not always been daunting for Mirnada, however. With his new organization, Miranda has found something different, something important to him, something that has always been a part of him, instilled at a young age in Cuba.

“The biggest thing I have learned is communication with your teammates and working towards that common goal,” he said. “I think the communication is the biggest thing I have learned since I have been here on how to come together and go toward that main goal to get there.”

He has done his part in September, recording four wins for the Mariners. He believes the work is just beginning.

“It’s a great experience to be with the Mariners and be in the rotation and learning from everybody, but I do know I have a lot more to learn going forward,” he said.

In the process, he hopes to bring not only his pitches, but a little bit of who he is to his new team.

“The most important things are the harmony and the discipline,” he said. “Having a good relationship with my teammates and getting along with everyone and pushing toward that common goal.”

Team: mariners
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