Manuel hands left-field job to Murphy
Tatis likely to platoon with Church in right field, back up Wright
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Daniel Murphy's outfield internship is now complete. Mets manager Jerry Manuel revealed that much Sunday, saying that Murphy will be the team's regular left fielder heading into the season, rather than remain in a platoon with Fernando Tatis.
More likely, the platoon will come in right, between the right-handed-hitting Tatis and the left-handed-hitting Ryan Church.
"I don't want him to get into a strictly platoon situation," Manuel said of Murphy, who produced four hits in 10 at-bats off lefties last year. "I think he's a little better player than that. Also, with Church being left-handed, I kind of see Murphy being a better hitter right now."
It's something of a leap of faith, considering that Murphy has only two months of service time and 131 big league at-bats to his credit. But Murphy, 23, also owns a .313 career average and an uncommon aptitude for hitting, prompting the decision that he is ready for a full-time assignment.
"Whatever will give us the best chance to win," Manuel said.
"The extent of my playing time, I always assumed, was [predicated on] how well I played this spring, and what kind of shape I put myself in," Murphy said. "Jerry -- that means the utmost to me that he has that faith in me, but my job is still to get ready to play, and that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to treat this like just like I'm trying to win a job for the next month that we're here."
Tatis is likely to find time as the primary right-handed pinch-hitter, as a sub at both corner outfield spots and as a backup for David Wright at third base. And his playing time could easily cut into that of Church, who is a superior defender than both Murphy and Tatis, but who hasn't been the same hitter since suffering his second concussion in four months last May.
Manuel, despite insisting that he considered Church his regular right fielder, admitted that he wasn't sure of Church's ability to return to his previous form, nor of his capacity to be as productive of a hitter as Murphy.
"There's no doubt he can be that player -- he's physically able to be that player," Manuel said. "The question becomes: how are you going to perform late?"
Church could, with a productive spring -- and, more importantly, with a strong showing against lefties -- reclaim the type of status in right field that Murphy has gained in left. In doing so, he would relegate Tatis almost exclusively into a pinch-hitting role. But barring something unforeseen, the performances of Church and Tatis will have almost no bearing on Murphy's role.
|"I'm still going to put the same pressure on myself to get ready to play. Winning a job is not my goal on this team. I think our goal is to win the World Series, and I have to get ready to play in whatever aspect that may be."|
|-- Daniel Murphy|
Murphy did so and, despite struggling defensively at his new position, hit enough to become the left-handed half of a platoon in left field.
"He wasn't the most graceful guy out there, but he did OK," Manuel said.
At season's end, the Mets sent Murphy to the Arizona Fall League to play second base, though with Luis Castillo under contract for three more years, his future in that role was limited. Still, Murphy played in Arizona until pulling his hamstring, then skipped winter ball in Puerto Rico to heal.
Despite rumors that they might pursue a power-hitting left fielder this offseason -- Manny Ramirez, perhaps -- the Mets seemed bent on entering camp with a left-field platoon of Murphy and Tatis, a candidate for last year's Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Tatis' production, along with Murphy's inexperience against big league left-handers, gave Manuel reason to keep that left field platoon intact. But the Mets manager said Sunday that he considered Murphy capable of holding his own against lefties -- at least more than Church, who was spared from a platoon last spring only by some uncharacteristically productive play in April and May.
That included plenty of production against lefties -- the type that faded after he returned from a concussion, and the type to which Manuel believes Murphy is predisposed.
"I don't need to see it," Manuel said. "I've seen it. I'm confident. The way he swings the bat, I'm confident that he can handle that. I don't have a problem with that."
One byproduct of the decision is that Murphy, even with a poor Spring Training, should remain in left field every day, at least throughout the beginning stages of the season.
"I'm still going to put the same pressure on myself to get ready to play," Murphy said. "Winning a job is not my goal on this team. I think our goal is to win the World Series, and I have to get ready to play in whatever aspect that may be."
As for Tatis, who has been practicing with the infielders since the start of camp, playing time may become scarce. Tatis is the primary backup to Wright at third base. But despite Manuel's stated preference to rest him more regularly last year, Wright still played in 160 games, 159 of them as a third baseman.
Assuming more of the same in 2009, Tatis is only likely to start in the outfield against left-handed pitching -- and even then, only if Church is struggling.
"I have my goals in my mind, and I just want to do a better job than I did last year," Tatis said. "That's what I put it in my mind."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.