BOSTON (AP) – Kevin Millar still has his smile and team spirit even though he’s losing playing time at first base to John Olerud.

Millar has struggled at the plate while Olerud got off to a strong start after the Boston Red Sox signed him as a free agent before last Friday’s game at the New York Yankees.

“I’ve never been selfish,” Millar said. “From day one I’ve given you everything I have and I’m still going to do that, so this is definitely an upgrade to our team.”

Manager Terry Francona emphasizes that he hasn’t given up on Millar, whose batting average dipped to .237 with just two homers after he went 0-for-4 in Tuesday night’s 5-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

He stuck with Millar through a tough first half last season and Millar came through, hitting .336 with 13 homers and 49 RBIs in his last 65 games.

The Red Sox told Olerud “they’re looking at me as being a bench guy and giving Kevin some rest,” he said, “so that’s what I’m preparing myself for.”

Francona said a lot of factors will determine who plays first, including matchups against a particular pitcher. Millar and Olerud have some distinct differences.

Millar bats right-handed, fields adequately and is a lively clubhouse presence with his frequent chatter and joking. Olerud bats left-handed, has won three Gold Gloves and is a quiet, businesslike player who doesn’t complain.

He led the AL with a .363 batting average in 1993 with Toronto when the Blue Jays won their second consecutive World Series title and hit .354 with the New York Mets in 1998.

Their career averages are similar – .292 for Millar, a rookie in 1999, and .295 for Olerud, whose first full season was 1990. But Olerud is a much better fielder and already has played as a late-inning defensive replacement for Millar, who played 45 of 46 games before Olerud arrived.

“It’s always a little awkward because you come in and you’re going to be taking some playing time” from Millar, Olerud said.

“He’s done a great job of making me feel welcome.”

Olerud played his last 49 games last season for the Yankees after being released by Seattle. His two-run homer gave them a 3-1 win over Boston in Game 2 of the AL championship series, but he tore ligaments in his left foot in Game 3 and appeared only as a pinch hitter in Boston’s Game 7 win after that.

He underwent surgery in November and wasn’t re-signed by New York.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox kept Millar over first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, a trade deadline acquisition to replace Millar in the late innings. Millar complained once to reporters about Mientkiewicz playing in his spot.

“I love (Mientkiewicz) to death,” Millar said, “but I didn’t think we were upgrading. Now John Olerud and myself is a much better combo than just myself at this point.”

Olerud signed a minor-league contract May 1. In the first five games after he joined Boston, he was 6-for-15 with two starts while Millar was 2-for-13 and started three times at first.

Millar said Olerud is “a good guy” he can learn from. “This isn’t like a big controversy.

“I’ll be fine,” Millar said. “I’ll get out of this sooner (rather) than later and then everything will be OK. But right now, Olerud a day here and a day there it makes it a better chance to win with certain matchups.”

Francona remains supportive, just as he was last season.

“I don’t just believe that when a guy (Olerud) gets a couple of hits you sit your first baseman down that has done so much for you,” Francona said. “This is a long haul and sometimes it takes some patience in order for things to work.”

Millar recognizes the parallel to last season when a veteran first baseman was brought in. But he said that didn’t spur him to play better.

“Did last year work out? We were the world champions for the first time in 86 years (in Boston),” he said. “It feels good when your manager’s behind you and I know he’s behind me.”

So are his teammates, who still pick on him even during his difficult hitting stretch.

“Why do you get all this attention?” third baseman Bill Mueller asked while Millar was surrounded by interviewers.

“I don’t know, Billy,” Millar shot back with a smile. “When they bring up (Arizona third baseman) Troy Glaus here, you’ll be doing the same interview.”

Fans also have remained supportive.

“I’m not a good enough player to boo,” Millar joked. “I’m the common player in the big leagues.”

AP-ES-06-01-05 1834EDT


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