That Murphy announced himself with four hits, including a home run, on Sunday against the Padres. His homer off Zach Davies was a pull-side special. He also went the opposite way twice and bounced an infield hit to the middle.
More important, signs through Summer Camp and the early regular season suggest that Murphy is here to stay.
Last year, a broken right index finger sustained in the Rockies’ second regular-season game cost him nearly four weeks. He never found his pull power. His .279 average was 20 points below his previous career average, and his .780 OPS was well below the .985 and .920 he managed, respectively, in All-Star seasons of 2016 and ’17.
What is happening?
1. They’ll say it for him: His hand is OK
Murphy crowds the plate with confidence that he can snap the bat through inside pitches and drive them, rather than hit them on the ground. Last year, it didn’t work.
Early in Summer Camp, hitting coach Dave Magadan addressed the finger, figuring Murphy would not.
“He would never blame anything on that -- that’s the person that he is,” Magadan said. “I'm sure it did affect him because he didn't miss a whole lot of time. He probably came back a lot quicker than most guys would have from that injury. And it was his top hand, which is involved in getting to those pitches.”
2. Fading away is a good thing
This is the type of talk that gets teammates thinking – well, those who can think along with Murphy:
“One of the biggest things was to work on my ball flight. When I start hooking the ball low to the pull side, it’s not super-conducive to success. So Mags and I were in contact at the end of last season, the offseason and into Summer Camp just trying to get my bat path in a place where no matter where I catch it in the hitting zone -- whether it’s deep in the back of the window, in the middle of the window or the front of the window, I was fortunate enough to get it up in the air and get it going.
“I want to hit a fade. I try to think of the batter’s box as a [golf] tee box. If I can move the ball as a left-handed hitter right to left, it’s going to be able to spin true. And balls that spin true go farther. It gives me more room for error depending on where I catch it in the contact window, back to front.”
3. The physical and mental part of playing defense
After a year at altitude, Murphy looked around at his teammates and figured he raised his own conditioning standards.
“With this ballclub, I saw last year with Charlie [Blackmon], Nolan [Arenado] and Trevor [Story], and these young guys work -- I say young, like [Ryan] McMahon -- these boys work so hard,” he said. “I really tried to commit myself to change my body a bit and see if I could be more mobile this year.”
Possibly bigger was a positioning adjustment. Murphy arrived with a philosophy, backed by the Rockies’ analytics team (and common among stat analysts), that playing farther from the bag helped the infield reach more ground balls.
But when those balls are fielded, most of the time the first baseman has to get to the bag. Being so far away made Murphy rush.
Murphy has made several saving scoops already this year. Murphy’s improved play at first base means when he’s used as designated hitter, it’s a lineup luxury rather than a necessity.
“Last year, [the positioning strategy] worked him and against us, so we came to the baseball decision this year to move Murph a little closer,” manager Bud Black said. “It’s helped his footwork; it’s helped him receive throws. He gets to set up just a little bit earlier.”
• Black said righty reliever Scott Oberg, likely to miss this season because of his third bout with blood clots in his throwing arm “has had a couple tests run. There are some procedures that they are trying to get a handle on everything. … It’s to the point now to where we’re going to try to find out what’s going on.”
“You have seen his career. You know how he pitches, how he spots his fastball and all his pitches,” said Estévez, who counts Davis as a mentor. “I saw something was kind of off, how he was missing his pitches. Sometimes, you know you can pitch through it, but it wasn’t that in this case, unfortunately. I think he’s going to be fine when he gets back.”