SURPRISE, Ariz. – Only two players have appeared in more games for the Texas Rangers than David Murphy over the past six seasons.
Yet for the first time this spring, Murphy arrived in Arizona without the tag as the Rangers’ fourth outfielder. He instead will be the everyday left fielder, a distinction that hasn’t changed his approach.
“I’ve never been in this position before, so I think I’m looking at it like any other spring,” said Murphy, who played two seasons with the Portland Sea Dogs (’05 and ’06). “It’s a performance-based sport, and I think you could assume the position’s being given to me because I was successful last year. But my performance still needs to be there, so I’m not taking anything for granted.”
Murphy played 147 games last year, with 118 starts in the outfield and seven more as the designated hitter. The left-handed hitter had a .304 average with 15 home runs and 61 RBI, including an impressive .347 clip against left-handed pitchers.
“It was a step in the right direction,” he said. “There was a level that I could play at, that I knew I could, and that I hadn’t. And I finally started to show signs and be more consistent, and I still think there’s more out there.”
In 13 spring games, Murphy is hitting .314 (11 for 35).
The Rangers acquired the Texas native and first-round draft pick in July 2007, from Boston in a nonwaiver deadline deal that sent closer Eric Gagne to the Red Sox. Murphy made his debut a couple of weeks later.
Since then, Murphy has played in 684 regular-season games and has been with the Rangers in their only two World Series.
Michael Young, the longest-tenured Rangers player before being traded to Philadelphia over the winter, played in 807 games for Texas during that stretch. Second baseman Ian Kinsler played in 727.
“I think David is on a mission, the same mission he was on last year. He wanted to be an everyday guy last year, he ended up being it. He has no intentions of losing his everyday job,” Manager Ron Washington said. “He didn’t show me anything (last year) I didn’t already know. He just was more consistent at doing it.”
The expectation last spring was that Murphy would split time in left field, the spot five-time All-Star slugger Josh Hamilton would slide into when Craig Gentry or another right-hander got turns in center field.
Hamilton is no longer in the outfield mix after leaving in free agency for the Angels. Now Gentry is competing with Leonys Martin for the starting job in center, with the 31-year-old Murphy set in left going into his final season before potential free agency.
“Murph’s a good player and he’s worked on things,” GM Jon Daniels said. “He’s always been an important part of the club, and he’s going to get an opportunity to continue doing just that.”
Murphy improved his defense over the past couple of years working with Gary Pettis, a Rangers assistant coach who was a five-time Gold Glove outfielder.
He wanted more chances to hit against left-handers, something Washington gave him. And Murphy responded with the best single-season average for a Rangers left-hander against a lefties with at least 75 at-bats — though that was exactly how many he had.
“It’s not necessarily the physical work, it’s just the mental part of it, and the thought process, and thinking my way out of it, thinking my way into becoming a better player because this has to be a thought before I can physically do it out there,” Murphy said.
“A lot of people ask me what the difference was in last year. I told them I didn’t feel like it was necessarily a physical difference. I felt like I’m older and smarter.”