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Murphy debuts with hit, clicks with Leake

@DKramer_
March 31, 2019

SEATTLE -- Just two days removed from receiving word that the Mariners were trading for him, Tom Murphy meandered his way through the rigors of calling his first game at catcher for his new club, an area that at times was challenging for him early in his career. During Seattle’s

SEATTLE -- Just two days removed from receiving word that the Mariners were trading for him, Tom Murphy meandered his way through the rigors of calling his first game at catcher for his new club, an area that at times was challenging for him early in his career.

During Seattle’s 6-5 win over the Red Sox on Saturday, Murphy helped steer starting pitcher Mike Leake through six tough innings against an offense that was, statistically, the Majors’ best last season. Murphy also reached base three times via two walks and a single, and he struck out once.

“A lot of fun catching Leake,” Murphy said. “I enjoyed that a lot. Just kind of what he can do and a game-plan with him, to me, is where I have the most fun as a catcher. A guy that I can spot up with any pitch he wants at any time. I really enjoyed that.”

Recognizing the wildly minute sample size of one game, all in all, Saturday represented a strong start for the catcher who for years has been touted for offensive potential but hasn’t made a permanent Major League leap.

A third-round Draft pick by the Rockies in 2012, Murphy showed 20-homer potential as he rose through Colorado’s pipeline -- showing enough power to earn a cup of coffee in 2016, when he slashed .273/.347/.659 over 49 plate appearances as a September callup. The Rockies were impressed enough to leave open the chance that Murphy could battle for the backup catcher role the following spring, but that never materialized, as Murphy went on to hit .188 from 2017-18 with a 43.4 percent strikeout rate.

The punchouts weren’t the only area in which Colorado wanted to see improvement. The Rockies also emphasized to Murphy that he become more flexible behind the plate and more polished calling games.

On Saturday, Murphy and Leake thwarted Boston’s timing with a heavy dose of changeups to complement the cutter and sinker – an approach that led to seven total strikeouts. In all, Leake hurled six different offerings at the Red Sox over 96 pitches and 27 batters, yielding only two runs and two walks. Relievers Brandon Brennan, Zac Rosscup and Nick Rumbelow pitched the Mariners through the rest of the way, narrowly avoiding another Red Sox comeback in the ninth.

“The organization let me know that the changeup was [Leake’s] second-best pitch, next to his sinker,” Murphy said. “They play so well together that in most situations, they made a lot of sense. … At the catching position, [calling games] is my most important job. That's why I put my time into everything that goes along with the defense. ... And the offense is just icing on the cake.”

The Mariners were in the market for a third catcher on their 40-man roster when they acquired Murphy, who was claimed off Rockies waivers by the Giants on Monday, designated for assignment on Wednesday and then traded to Seattle for right-hander Jesus Ozoria on Thursday. Because David Freitas has Minor League options and Murphy doesn’t, it’s likely that Murphy will retain a 25-man roster spot. By all indications, the Mariners are going to give him the chance to hold it.

“It’s hard to come to a new ballclub. In the heat of the battle, you’ve got to learn these guys, the signs, what their stuff does,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I thought he handled it great. His at-bats were good; he plays with energy. He’s got a lot to learn in a quick amount of time, but I thought he handled it really well tonight."

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.