After lost ’20, Murphy ‘happy to be here’

Mariners’ top hitter in ’19 coming off season-ending broken bone in foot

February 21st, 2021

As he meanders through the Mariners’ Spring Training facility, the smile is wide, the foot is healed and the anxiety of a lost 2020 season begins to secede from . A recurring phrase from the Mariners’ starting catcher in the early days of camp: “I’m just happy to be here.”

Murphy has rejoined the Mariners for the first time since going on the 60-day injured list on Aug. 18 with a left foot metatarsal fracture, at which point MLB health and safety protocols required he not remain with the team. He sustained the injury in fluke fashion, fouling two balls off the same area of his foot during an intrasquad game in Summer Camp, tried to play through it for a month, then finally shut things down when a CT scan revealed the prognosis.

Now, he returns “100 percent” healthy, hoping to regain his 2019 form, when he led all Mariners with 3.2 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs, slashed .273/.324/.535 and hit a career-high 18 homers in 75 games.

“They could have probably thrown anything at me that first day [of camp] and I would’ve been all right with it, because it just felt right. It felt right being back out there with the guys and being a part of a team,” Murphy said from Peoria, Ariz. “Even though I spent some time here last year, it just didn't feel like you were part of a team when you're not there grinding each day with the guys.”

The Mariners will ease Murphy into action, probably to no more than 2-3 innings in the first week of Cactus League play. Despite confidence in his health, even he acknowledges that there could be a re-learning curve at the plate. To protect the area he injured, Murphy will sport a leg guard while batting.

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“I'm very comfortable with BP, all the scenarios of practice are very comfortable in terms of timing,” Murphy said. “But that's a whole different ballgame once you step in the box against other guys, and obviously that's the name of the game, is that variability and not knowing what's coming.”

Returning any semblance of his 2019 production would be a huge boon for the Mariners, who also will get right fielder Mitch Haniger back and a full season of at-bats from up-and-coming slugger Ty France. Couple that trio with Kyle Lewis and Kyle Seager, and there is far more offensive potential.

Murphy would’ve seen the majority of playing time behind the plate in 2020, and that’ll be the case entering ’21. The 29-year-old, who has been praised for his communicative ability to manage a pitching staff, spent an exhaustive amount of time studying each of Seattle’s abundance of arms over two-hour Zoom sessions every Tuesday with members of the coaching and analytics departments. When he arrived at camp this week, there was a massive binder outlining everything they went over.

“He gives immediate feedback, good and bad, with our pitchers, and it kind of puts the pitcher in a different zone mentally,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “You get so locked into making sure you're hitting Murph's glove that you're forgetting about your mechanics, you're forgetting about a lot of those things, which is a good thing. You want to get external in those moments, and Murph does a great job with our pitchers to get them there.”

Backup Luis Torrens has also impressed Servais with his digestion of those reports, and Torrens will likely see 40-45% of the regular-season action given the demanding nature of the position. No. 8 prospect Cal Raleigh is also in big league camp, on the cusp of reaching the Majors and will be a reinforcement this season.

Haniger shows off sweet swing
Like Murphy, will be eased into Cactus League action, but he put some doubts about his health status to rest by scorching a few towering fly balls in BP on Saturday.

Haniger, who was residing in Arizona for part of the offseason, also spent a chunk of the winter rehabbing with a huge premium on body movement over strength building, and the result has his swing in a much more comfortable place than ever, he said. His next game will be his first since June 6, 2019, when he had a testicle ruptured by a foul ball, which preceded a slew of surgeries necessitated by setbacks in his rehab.

“We feel like he still has his best years as a player in front of him,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said of the 2018 All-Star. “And we're going to find out how close that is to reality.”

Paxton has new number
James Paxton on Saturday made his first appearance since rejoining the Mariners, and the big news out of Big Maple’s first bullpen was that he was donning new digits. Paxton will wear No. 44 this season, with his former No. 65 occupied by relief pitcher Casey Sadler.

“It was exactly the type of bullpen you can expect from a guy who's been around for a while,” said Murphy, who was with the Rockies when Paxton was traded to the Yankees in November 2018. “Very professional, knew exactly what he needed to do. It was one of those bullpens where I wasn't too active in terms of how vocal I was to my pitcher because I want to learn as much about him, from him, as possible at this point.”