Tom Murphy can’t get back the shortened 60-game season in 2020 he lost due to a fluke injury. He can’t get a do-over for a spring training when he looked and felt out of sorts at the plate. And he can’t get a do-over for all those non-productive at-bats in the first month of the season that cost him future playing time.
But his perseverance and commitment to daily work without the guarantee of daily playing time has helped him regain a more prominent role with the Mariners in these final months of the season. With rookie Cal Raleigh struggling and Luis Torrens spending most of his time at designated hitter, Murphy has been in the starting lineup at catcher on days when the Mariners are facing a left-handed starting pitcher and even a few days when there is a right-handed starter.
When Raleigh was mashing Class AAA pitching in late June and early July, making a push to be called up, there was some thought that the Mariners might be forced to designate Murphy for assignment. But with Torrens struggling at the plate and Murphy seeming to be a perfect mentor for Raleigh, Murphy remained on the roster, platooning with Raleigh. Slowly, Murphy started to find his hitting stroke.
“For me, it kind of started in spring training, I didn’t perform well at spring training,” Murphy said. “And I know, it’s just spring training, and people say that all the time, but it means something to me. I went into the season and didn’t really have anything to build off of after kind of stinking for like six weeks in spring training, and it just really carried over into the season. I wasn’t able to flush what I did in spring training and really, it carried on into May. It was a crazy long slump where I just did not feel like a good baseball player.”
Murphy credited his teammates and coaches for keeping faith in him during those troubles.
“Those people around me didn’t really give up on me,” Murphy said. “That’s probably the lowest point in my baseball career, for sure. And to do it at the big-league level is something that I’m not proud of. It’s something that’s really hard for me to talk about, even when it was happening, you know, I just was so frustrated with myself.”
On May 21, Murphy had played in 26 games and had a .127/.179/.304 slash line with two doubles, four homers, six RBI, five walks and 30 strikeouts in 86 plate appearances.
Murphy’s problems were simple.
“For me, everything’s based off the fastball,” he said. “Through all those struggles, I couldn’t even catch up to heater or at least square one up. That was the most troubling thing because if you can’t hit a fastball, honestly, you’re not going to stick around very long. And the big improvement for me in 2019 was my hitting the fastball was a lot better. I built my approach around that, everything I was doing was based off of that. You go back to the beginning of this year and the feeling of not being able to do that again really ate at me, both mentally and physically.”
Since then, he’s produced a .247/.359/.414 slash line with six doubles, seven homers and 25 RBI. He still expects more from himself, but given the early struggles, he’ll take the improvement.
And even in his struggles, he still made the pitchers and his defensive responsibilities a priority.
“I really had to lean on my defensive skills and mindset and all the things I’ve learned over the years of being able to play in the big leagues and the years in the minor leagues,” he said. “To be able to do that on the field and give that to my guys is my No. 1 job. And whether I’m hitting good or bad, I can’t let that deter from the team because ultimately that’s what’s going to help us succeed probably more than anything.”
Justin Dunn (right shoulder strain) threw another simulated game Monday afternoon in hopes of returning to pitch by the end of the 2021 season.
“I saw the first part of it,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “I haven’t talked to the trainers or pitching coaches yet. I thought the ball was coming out better. There was certainly more intent today as he’s trying to ramp it up here. If it went well today, I think the next thought was to get him out for an inning on a rehab stint probably at Tacoma or Everett.”
Dunn likely will make a couple of rehab appearances before being cleared to return. Similar to Justus Sheffield, when he does return, he will pitch out of the bullpen.
Jake Fraley (right shoulder inflammation) played in the first game of a doubleheader at Cheney Stadium for Class AAA Tacoma. He went 1 for 3 with a two-run homer and a sacrifice fly. Fraley could be activated from the 10-day injured list before the game Tuesday.