Notes: Murphy's spring debut; Montas stays hot
MESA, Ariz. -- Sean Murphy’s Cactus League debut could not have come at a better time for the A’s.
In the starting lineup for Monday night’s 5-2 win over the Cubs at Hohokam Park for his first game since knee surgery last October, Murphy provides an extra piece for an A’s club that just played four split-squad games over two days, two of those in Las Vegas as part of MLB’s Big League Weekend.
But Murphy is more than just an extra body. After an impressive showing last season as a September callup, Murphy entered 2020 expected to be Oakland’s starting catcher. Rated by MLB Pipeline as the A’s No. 2 prospect, the sky is the limit for Murphy, so long as he can stay healthy. That seemed to be an issue last year as problems with his left knee led to two stints on the injured list and offseason knee surgery, a meniscal debridement procedure the club hopes will prevent long-term issues.
“He had a little procedure in the offseason. Hit all the markers leading up and did all the things we felt like he needed to do to get to this day,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’ll get to play today. I think there’s always a little trepidation the first couple of games, but he’s excited about getting to play tonight.”
Murphy will have to wait for another game to officially be credited with an at-bat, as his two plate appearances on Monday resulted in walks. Of the nine pitches he saw, eight were balls and one was a called strike, so he still has yet to actually swing the bat in a game. But Murphy was just glad to see some pitches from an opposing pitcher.
“It was fun. Watching is not as much fun as playing,” Murphy said of his spring debut. “I was itching to get out there. Just to get out there and see some pitches was helpful. It helped me get my timing. I wanted to swing, but the at-bats didn’t let me.”
Murphy caught five innings before getting pulled for a pinch-runner after his second walk. It wasn’t the easiest first assignment back, as he had to catch a trio of flamethrowers in Frankie Montas, Lou Trivino and Liam Hendriks, but Murphy felt he settled in pretty quickly.
“I had some good arms to catch so it was a challenge right off the bat,” Murphy said. “But I’ve seen those guys and know those guys. We were pretty comfortable.”
One of Murphy’s biggest strengths is his cannon of an arm behind the plate. Murphy's throw on a caught stealing of Adalberto Mondesi last year was clocked at 87.4 mph, the A's hardest throw on a caught stealing since Statcast started tracking the statistic in 2015. There were no opportunities to throw out a runner on Monday, but Murphy did get to contribute to a 7-2-4-3 putout in the fifth, receiving a throw from left fielder Robbie Grossman that prevented a run from scoring before firing a ball to Franklin Barreto at second that led to former A’s catcher Josh Phegley eventually getting tagged out.
“It’s always good to get thrown into a chaotic situation,” Murphy said. “A throw from home and now we got a baserunner stranded and doing a first-and-third rundown. Having one of those situations right off the bat was nice. There’s gonna be more of those odd plays going forward, and those are throws that catchers typically don’t practice as much, but they’re part of the game. Cutting the ball off and redirecting to another base.”
Murphy’s absence has allowed the A’s to get a longer look at Austin Allen and Jonah Heim behind the plate. Both are in contention for the backup role to Murphy this spring and have been off to a good start, each entering Monday night batting over .300 in Cactus League play.
“They both have done really well,” Melvin said of Allen and Heim. “I’m impressed with both, and we’ll continue to see more of them. Whether it’s alternating, starting or backing up. Both have done a nice job, maybe a little more than my expectations coming in.”
The pair will likely continue to see a good amount of action in games as the A’s look to monitor their use of Murphy in the early goings. Murphy will get Tuesday and Wednesday off before returning to the lineup Thursday against the Dodgers.
“I think we’ll probably lean on the training staff for that,” Melvin said of Murphy’s workload. “Whether it’s day on and day off, if it’s a bigger workload, maybe two off.”
Montas keeps rolling
Arriving to camp with a well-conditioned arm after playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Montas continued to look sharp with two scoreless innings. He hit a batter and walked another in the second before ultimately getting out of the inning with a pair of groundouts, but the brief lack of control may have been more due to Montas focusing on his offspeed stuff this time out.
“He was working on his splitter and slider,” Melvin said. “Got a little out of whack for a minute. He’s usually quite the strike-thrower. But he ended up finding it again.”
Montas still has not allowed a hit in three innings this spring. His fastball sat around 96-97 mph for most of his outing on Monday, using it as the putaway pitch for the first of his two strikeouts. The right-hander threw 20 of his 32 pitches for strikes.
Working with Murphy in a game situation for the first time in his career, Montas said he felt comfortable with the rookie behind the plate.
“He knows what he’s doing out there,” Montas said. “In Spring Training, I’m more just trying to work on my own stuff. If it’s a real game, I’ll probably go with what he calls. He probably sees more than what I’m seeing.”
Logan gets a look
The A’s got a longer look at 2019 first-round pick Logan Davidson, who entered the game for Marcus Semien at shortstop in the fifth and finished the game. Davidson followed up a triple by Barreto with a sacrifice fly in his first at-bat and drew a walk his second time up.
“You come to big league camp for your first time, one year removed from college, it can seem overwhelming,” Melvin said. “It does not seem that way for him right now. Early on in drills, maybe not great in his throwing, but he looks comfortable now and looks good at the plate. There’s a reason we picked him first.”
Right-hander Chris Bassitt gets the start for the A's on Tuesday in their 12:05 p.m. PT tilt with the White Sox at Camelback Ranch, available on MLB.TV and Gameday Audio. Bassitt showed off a loopy curveball he's been working on during two scoreless innings of relief against the D-backs last week. Reynaldo López is scheduled to start for Chicago.