Murphy in line for regular time in Texas' outfield
Shifting Hamilton to center opens everyday opportunity in left
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Everything seems to be falling into place for Rangers outfielder David Murphy this spring."Does it?" Murphy asked suspiciously on Sunday morning. Sure. The Rangers are embracing the idea of Josh Hamilton playing center field this year. If Hamilton is going to play center, there is little doubt who is going to be the Rangers' left fielder on Opening Day. Murphy has earned that role this spring. "I don't know ... we'll wait until we see the lineup on Opening Day," Murphy said. That decision is up to manager Ron Washington, and he is not saying if Murphy will be in the lineup on Friday against White Sox left-hander John Danks.
"I haven't announced the Opening Day lineup yet ... but you're on the right track," Washington said.Murphy has reason to be skeptical. He has not been in the Opening Day lineup since 2008, when he faced left-hander Erik Bedard and the Mariners. "I didn't get a hit off him, but I was 2-for-4 on the day," Murphy said. He didn't get off the bench in 2009 against Indians left-hander Cliff Lee. In 2010, he scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth after pinch-running for Vladimir Guerrero, and he had the game-winning hit -- a two-run pinch-hit double in the eighth -- last year against the Red Sox. This season, he is in line on Friday unless Washington doesn't want him to start with a left-hander pitching for the White Sox. "It's just one game ... I want to play every day," Murphy said. "I want to play against left-handers and right-handers, so why should I care who is on the mound?" Maybe playing on Opening Day isn't really the big issue. "I could start Murphy on Opening Day and two days later you may not see him in the lineup," Washington said. "Is he going to be in there every single day? No. is Hamilton going to be in center field every single day? No. He'll play some center field. Murphy will play a lot." For Murphy, that's what it all comes to, getting a chance to play regularly. He has had more than 400 at-bats in each of the past four seasons, but much of his playing time has been dictated by what was happening to other players. That's the nature of being a fourth outfielder. Now it appears that Murphy controls his own fate as far as playing time. He seized that by hitting .327 this spring -- now he has to take that into the regular season. "I think it's easy to assess at this point," Murphy said. "It's what I said from the beginning. If things do work out and I'm in an everyday role, the focus has to be on being more consistent. Everybody is aware of my history of being a slow starter and being inconsistent in the first half. I want to be a more consistent player from Game 1 to Game 162, or Game 170 or however long the season lasts." Murphy, who was 1-for-2 with a two-run single on Sunday, is a career .268 hitter in the first half of the season with a .328 on-base percentage and .418 slugging percentage. After the All-Star break, his career numbers shoot up to .295 with a .352 on-base percentage and a .481 slugging percentage. His career monthly batting averages get progressively better as season progresses: .233 in April, .261 in May, .279 in June, .281 in July, .290 in August and .325 in September. "I just think I need to keep the focus on winning and my teammates rather than me," Murphy said. "There is no reason to put all this pressure on myself. We have a power-packed lineup. It's not like I'm hitting in the No. 3 hole and have to carry the load. I'm not one of the featured attractions, I just have to keep the line moving." Murphy, entering his fifth full season in the Majors, showed this spring what he is capable of when he really wants to focus on something and get better at it. The latest example was on Saturday night, when he made a terrific diving catch in the seventh inning against the Indians. "I don't think it's a matter of catching the ball," Murphy said. "When I get to the ball, I usually catch it. I've been working on my breaks and reads. There have been way too many balls that dropped that I could have made a better effort at." Washington said the Rangers want Murphy to be more aggressive as an outfielder. "We want him to play all-out all the time," Washington said. "If you go all-out, dive for a ball and you don't get catch it, if you miss it, just get up and go chase the ball." Murphy went all-out this spring. He went all-out to win a job as an everyday player and be in the Opening Day lineup. He didn't miss. He doesn't have to get up and go chase the ball.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.