Murphy counters hurdles with hard work
Mets first baseman hones his craft amid much competition
JUPITER, Fla. -- Daniel Murphy has what many would call tunnel vision. The 24-year-old is one of the hardest-working players in Mets Spring Training camp, is believed to have a sheer obsession with his hitting and he never reads any stories about himself or his club.
"Zero," Murphy stressed.
For that type of thing, it's Murphy's father, Tom, who peers through what's written about his son -- a player perceived as a question mark in the Mets' lineup, but one whose production grows in importance as the spring goes on, with Carlos Beltran out for the start of the season and Jose Reyes possibly joining him.
So, what does Tom usually say about what he reads?
"Get more hits," the younger Murphy said.
Murphy was half joking when he said that. That's because after batting .313 through 49 games as a rookie in 2008, the lefty hitter -- who's not a big home run threat -- hit for an unimpressive .266 batting average with a .741 OPS while seeing action in 155 games last year.
Murphy also struggled at first base upon taking over the position for the first time in May, when Carlos Delgado had hip surgery and ended up missing the rest of the season. As Spring Training drew closer, concerns persisted regarding whether Murphy could be a productive member of the Mets' lineup. And they were usually followed by questions like these:
Why didn't the Mets bring back Delgado?
Does Mike Jacobs have a chance to be the starter at first base this year?
When will Ike Davis be ready to take over at the position full-time?
That's past, present and future -- all revolving around Murphy's alleged inability to hold down the position.
Yet Murphy remains unassuming, hard-working and centered on the task at hand: playing a quality first base, having a productive year at the plate through a 162-game season -- and not reading the headlines.
"I can only really control what my job is that day," said Murphy, who had 12 homers, 63 RBIs and 38 doubles in 2009. "So I let my father read that stuff. He informs me every now and then. But I just come to work every day."
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Murphy, whose offseason home is about a three-hour drive from the Mets' Spring Training facility, showed up for minicamp in January and immediately went to work on improving his skills as a first baseman -- while receiving tutelage from 11-time Gold Glove Award winner Keith Hernandez.
"He's looked extremely well at first base," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "Very active. He's very aggressive. And I think for him, now, it's a matter of him getting back to kind of using the whole field as a hitter and the offensive player that we think he should be, and could become. But at first base, we feel very, very, very comfortable and confident that he can get the job done at the Major League level and play well."
Despite the praise, the Mets' skipper said he isn't any closer to making decisions regarding spring competitions, opting to wait until later in the Grapefruit League schedule, when guys have a better feel for baseball and can be judged more harshly.
"We're still a ways away," Manuel said. "Once we get down to maybe the last four or five ballgames, everybody, we feel, is very close to being Major League ready, and then we'll probably put a little bit more into the evaluation process at that time. Right now, we're going to keep giving everybody as much of an opportunity to play and get ready and see where they are."
But Manuel did say Thursday that Alex Cora will likely be the starting shortstop if Reyes' thyroid condition doesn't allow him to be ready for the start of the season -- though Manuel is "still holding out" that Reyes will indeed be good to go by early April. And he reiterated that hard-throwing prospect Jenrry Mejia would not be the team's eighth-inning man if he starts the season on the 25-man roster, since that's a role the manager thinks the young righty needs to be eased into.
And though all signs point to Murphy being the starting first baseman for the Mets this season, Manuel said the position has a "competitive situation" because Jacobs -- who hit 32 homers in 2008 and was signed to a Minor League contract this offseason -- has played a better first base than he expected.
But Murphy, batting 4-for-27 (.148) this spring, doesn't like to complicate things.
"I can't control that stuff," Murphy said after the Mets' 5-2 win over the Marlins on Thursday at Roger Dean Stadium. "Just get ready to play every day."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.