Mariners reliever Penn Murfee has taken an unusual and unlikely journey to the big leagues, so maybe it’s fitting he had another odd journey after briefly getting demoted late last month while the team was in Tampa.
Murfee was on a plane readying to take off, with his final destination being Las Vegas, where the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers were playing. That was when he got the message that the Mariners had called him back up, less than a day after they had sent him down.
“We were still in reverse leaving Tampa’s terminal, and I get a text saying: ‘Hey, we need you to come back. Is there any way you can get off?’ ” Murfee said.
The answer was no. So he got off in Denver, where he had a scheduled layover, and caught an early morning plane back to Florida. His luggage, meanwhile, went to Las Vegas.
“I went two days without my stuff and scrounged some equipment from (fellow relievers) Paul Sewald and Wyatt Mills,” he said. “It was everything. All my clothes, pants and jersey top for pregame. And for the game, my socks, cleats and glove were all teammate-donated.”
Murfee made his major-league debut the day after he was recalled (April 29), pitching two scoreless innings. That success has continued.
He pitched a perfect inning Monday against Philadelphia and has yet to allow a hit in 7 2/3 big-league innings while striking out 10 and walking one.
It’s pretty heady stuff for someone who thought his baseball career was over after getting his degree in finance — with a minor in Chinese — at Vanderbilt and earning several academic honors.
Murfee switched from being an infielder to a pitcher as a redshirt junior at Vanderbilt, but didn’t have a lot of success. He was ready to begin the next phase of his life.
But a friend suggested he take advantage of his final year of eligibility, and he decided to pitch and enter a graduate program at Santa Clara. He pitched well enough with the Broncos to get drafted in the 33rd round by the Mariners in 2018.
The odds of a 33rd-round pick making the major leagues are not good, but here he is, and quickly making a name for himself.
“It’s been pretty fun so far,” he said.
His success would have been hard to predict after he struggled at Everett following the 2018 draft.
“I came home from short-season (Everett) — a bad short season — and again hit that crossroad,” he said. “I was still one foot in and one foot out. I was looking for internships in data analytics for finance in the offseason, and I felt my energy was being pulled in two separate directions. I decided I wanted to go all in with baseball and see what happens.”
His numbers dramatically improved and he began progressing through the organization. Mariners manager Scott Servais has been impressed with the rookie, who throws sidearm.
“One thing about Penn is that he is throwing strikes,” Servais said. “He is controlling the strike zone and he has got the feel to pitch. The fastball is not 98 miles per hour — it’s not going to blow your doors off — but he is pitching, he is moving the ball around. He’s got a good slider, he’s got some deception. He has been really good and he will continue to get a lot of opportunities. I just like the way he goes about things.”
— Servais said SS J.P. Crawford (back spasms) was feeling much better but was not in the lineup against the Phillies, his former team. Servais did not know whether Crawford was available to pinch-hit until he finished his pregame workout.
— Servais said he came to the ballpark in a much better mood after the Mariners ended a six-game losing streak Sunday with a 2-1 win in 10 innings over Tampa Bay. He was still talking about the great big-league debut of George Kirby, who threw six scoreless innings — and without shaking off a single pitch call from catcher Luis Torrens.
“There are times when (Torrens) was shaking his head, but a lot of that is gamesmanship. We are making him shake his head. It’s a fake head shake.”
— Servais said the reports on outfielder Kyle Lewis, who is at Class AAA Tacoma while working his way back from a knee injury, have been positive. “But we don’t want to [call him up] until he’s 100 percent ready, and I think we are getting closer to that point.”