Why to like Murphy: 'He works his tail off'

Catcher emerging as right-handed portion of platoon with Narvaez

April 17th, 2019

SEATTLE -- Five games into his Mariners career, catcher Tom Murphy has made a strong first impression. It doesn’t hurt that he’s hit .412 in his first 20 plate appearances, but more importantly, the 28-year-old has enthusiastically jumped in, working to improve on pitch framing and defensive techniques that were question marks upon his arrival.

At 6-foot-1, 218 pounds, Murphy looks like he’s spent plenty of time in the weight room, and his power at the plate is definitely an attribute. But the challenge for any catcher -- especially one joining a team after the season already has begun -- is getting to know his pitching staff and handling things behind the plate.

But manager Scott Servais says Murphy immediately has proven to be one of the hardest workers on the Mariners and has impressed since his arrival on March 29, when he was acquired from the Giants for Minor League pitcher Jesus Ozoria.

“Really from the first day he came in and I met him, he made a very strong first impression,” Servais said. “He works his tail off on all parts of his game, is very prepared watching video, interacting with his teammates, asking questions, learning from them. I really like what I’ve seen. He’s made some little adjustments with his receiving and throwing. He’s quick to adapt and tries to put those things into play right away.”

Murphy spent parts of the past four seasons with the Rockies, with whom he hit .219 with 10 homers in 210 plate appearances. It appears he’ll get more of a shot with Seattle, as Servais sees him fitting well into a platoon role with left-handed-hitting starting catcher Omar Narvaez.

Heading into Wednesday’s series finale with the Indians, Mariners catchers had combined to hit .293/.349/.493 with 14 runs, three doubles, four homers and 10 RBIs in 20 games.

“You hope they continue to improve defensively and then we have a nice little tandem there,” Servais said. “It reminds me of when I came into the league. I was kind of a platoon guy mixed in with a left-handed hitter, and it worked out pretty good. Just looking at the sum of the work you do by the end of the year and how do we rank and what other people are getting out of their catching, I have to think we’re pretty favorable right now.”

Murphy went 3-for-4 with two doubles in Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to Cleveland and threw out Leonys Martin trying to steal second.

Improving that part of his game has been a huge focus since Murphy's arrival, and he got some extra tutelage in the past week from Tony Arnerich, Seattle's Minor League catching coordinator who worked with Murphy while the team was in Kansas City.

Arnerich has helped provide daily feedback from the analytics department on pitch-framing data, and Murphy has also been drilled on getting quicker on his footwork to improve his timing on throws to second base.

“He filled me full of information right off the bat,” Murphy said. “It was great. The guy really likes to work, and I do too. We made a great connection and immediately got to work as soon as he was in Kansas City. It’s some things I’ve been practicing every day since. Some stuff he gave me is just incredible and I’ll continue to roll with it.”

Worth noting
• Mariners right fielder Mitch Haniger was scratched from Wednesday’s lineup due to a sinus infection, though Servais said Haniger was available off the bench in an emergency.

Servais said Haniger has been feeling under the weather the past few days, but he is hopeful he’ll be improved when Seattle opens its four-game series against the Angels in Anaheim on Thursday.

• Servais said rookie left-hander Yusei Kikuchi will get a normal start on Saturday in Anaheim, then will be limited to one inning -- as the team has planned since signing him -- in one of his subsequent two starts.

The Mariners are taking the long view with the 27-year-old Kikuchi, given the arm issues numerous pitchers have dealt with in making the transition to the MLB schedule after pitching just once a week in Japan.

• Reliever Sam Tuivailala’s rehab program was put on a slight delay after he felt some right shoulder tightness last week while working back from right Achilles tendon surgery. Tuivailala is expected to throw a live batting practice in the next few days in Arizona, however, and is still shooting for a possible late-May return.

• Reliever Chasen Bradford, on the 10-day IL with right shoulder inflammation, has been playing catch and could start throwing off the bullpen mound in the next few days.

• Third baseman Kyle Seager has regained full range of motion in his surgically repaired left hand, but he has yet to pick up a bat and likely remains two months from returning.