When Tom Murphy envisioned the 2021 season, he saw one of stability, health and consistent production — all the things he had waited for in his career and rarely found.
After being designated for assignment by two different organizations in March 2019, he found a home with the Mariners and put together a strong enough year that allowed Seattle to trade fellow catcher Omar Narvaez.
Murphy went into the 2020 season as the full-time starter and a place on the opening-day roster. Then came the COVID-19 shutdown for 3½ months, which shortened the season to 60 games. And a week before that season was set to begin, Murphy took a ball off the inside of his foot while catching. A day later, he fouled a ball off the same spot. The two fluke injuries led to a fracture in his foot that caused him to miss the entire season.
Fully recovered and aching to finally have his moment, the 2021 season was going to be better.
But it hasn’t been.
Murphy struggled at the plate during spring training and saw it carry over into the season. He went from being the lead catcher to sharing time with Luis Torrens, who wasn’t playing much better, to playing only about 35% of the time.
In his first 15 games, he had a .111/.149/.200 slash line with a double, a homer, two RBI, two walks and 18 strikeouts in 48 plate appearances.
With Torrens optioned to Tacoma a week ago, Murphy is now splitting time with left-handed hitting Jose Godoy. It’s allowed manager Scott Servais to run more of a platoon with Murphy starting games with left-handed starters on the mound. In his last four games, he has four hits, including two doubles and a big homer in Thursday’s win.
“As soon as he hit it, he’s looking right at the dugout with big smile on his face,” Servais said. “That’s great. It’s great to see. It’s a kid’s game. Let’s go have fun. Even though it’s hard some nights, you got to have fun doing it.”
His overall numbers still don’t look pretty — a .157/.219/.371 slash line with four doubles, five homers, eight RBI, seven walks and 32 strikeouts. But Servais had a discussion with Murphy about his current situation and what he can do about it.
“Early in the season, Murph put a ton of pressure upon himself and it was kind of self-induced,” Servais said. “He wants to be a big contributor offensively as well as what he does behind the plate. He does a great job with our pitching staff. He really does. He does his homework. He’s very prepared coming into games. But it’s hard, when you get off to a slow start and look up on that scoreboard — the batting average is the devil. It really is. It can overwhelm you at times.”
Murphy decided to no longer let it overwhelm him. The batting average wouldn’t improve by agonizing over it.
“I’ve built upon a pretty good couple days here in terms of my attitude and showing up every day with kind of a global picture in mind, not necessarily my batting average,” he said. “When I do that, I’m much more an enjoyable person. That’s what’s important for this team, especially as the catcher so that’s what I’m gonna do going forward here. We’ll see where it goes in terms of hitting, but I’m not worried about that. I know that when I show up every day with that type of attitude good things are going to happen.”
Servais noticed it before games the last few weeks.
“I know he’s made a conscious effort to come into the ballpark with a smile on his face, be grateful for the opportunity and what he’s going to get a chance to do here as this season plays out,” Servais said. “Sometimes your inner thoughts and your self-talk can lead to very positive results. And if you get negative, it’s gonna lead to negative results. And I give him a ton of credit. He’s really changed his attitude here recently. Be grateful for where you’re at, go out and help your team any way you can and give back. Sometimes when you give back, you get a whole lot more in return.”
Six-man rotation gets sixth man
The Mariners will finally have six healthy starting pitchers for their six-man rotation when Marco Gonzales is activated from the 10-day injured list to start Tuesday’s game vs. the Athletics.
Servais decided to put Gonzales back in the rotation rather than have him go out on a minor-league rehab assignment.
“Just understand, he is not going to go deep in the ballgame,” Servais said. “It’s going to be three or four innings and see how he’s feeling there. We will build him up. I’d rather do that at the big-league level than on a rehab.”
Servais hopes he can get relievers Will Vest, Drew Steckenrider and Kendall Graveman back from the COVID-19 injured list early next week when they’ve passed the required 10-day quarantine. However, they won’t be able to join the team immediately. They will have to pass all intake requirements before being eligible to play.
“They will have to go through some different tests I think before they come in too,” Servais said. “Obviously they have to make sure they test negative for COVID, but they have some other tests they have to go through before they come back into the bubble.”
And their readiness to pitch will be subjective to each pitcher.
“Is it a bullpen (session) and they’re good to go?” Servais said. “They are bullpen guys. It’s not like they’re starting pitchers that you have to send out on a rehab or things like that. We’ll have to look at each individual separately and make sure we don’t rush them out there too soon.”