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In return, Murphy doing what he does best

Patient hitter brings another dynamic to lineup ... and avoids 'dental' disaster
@harding_at_mlb
April 24, 2019

DENVER -- Daniel Murphy was as advertised in his return to the Rockies during Wednesday’s 9-5 victory over the Nationals. One solid single, a walk during a four-run inning and two outs that moved runners over during big innings highlighted what he brings. Now, if he can just avoid the

DENVER -- Daniel Murphy was as advertised in his return to the Rockies during Wednesday’s 9-5 victory over the Nationals. One solid single, a walk during a four-run inning and two outs that moved runners over during big innings highlighted what he brings.

Now, if he can just avoid the running molar mascot.

A dental company sponsors a race around the warning track, ending at the Rockies’ dugout, involving a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and the aforementioned tooth. It usually, and thankfully, doesn’t rate a mention.

But Wednesday before the top of the sixth, Murphy, in his first Rockies game at Coors Field, was headed to his position when the brush nearly brushed into him and the tooth nearly bumped him. Murphy’s first baseman’s mitt went flying as he jumped aside.

Uh, that mitt was on the hand that had the fractured finger.

“He made a really athletic maneuver to miss me,” Murphy said. “I much appreciate it. I don’t know if he’s allowed to reveal his identity, but really athletic. He probably could have lambasted me there.”

Murphy was part of a lineup that scored six runs on Nats starter Anibal Sanchez and, just as importantly, forced him to labor through 98 pitches in five innings.

Manager Bud Black cited Murphy’s third-inning at-bat, after Trevor Story’s one-out triple in the third with the Rockies trailing, 3-0.

“He could have expanded the zone and tried to get a [RBI], but he didn’t -- took the walk,” Black said.

Nolan Arenado followed with another patient at-bat for a sacrifice fly; David Dahl doubled and Ryan McMahon, a-la Murphy, walked -- “the whole passing-the-baton thing, trusting that the next guy will get the job done,” McMahon said. It allowed Raimel Tapia to line a three-run double that Nats right fielder Adam Eaton misjudged, and the Rockies had a 4-3 lead.

Arenado said of Murphy, “He changes our lineup. We missed him when he wasn’t there. To have him back is amazing. Just good quality from everyone. I hit with a man on third a lot today, which was cool, pretty fun to do.”

Furry dental mascots weren’t the only dangers. The frame ended with Murphy fielding Jake Noll’s grounder and needing to dive and touch the bag with his glove before Noll’s spike hit.

“[I] went swimming into first, just the way we drew it up,” he quipped.

And the first pitch from Matt Grace in the bottom of the sixth buzzed by Murphy’s hands.

“It’s better than being on the bench,” he said, “so I’ll take my chances.”

Hoffman has room to grow

The corresponding move for Murphy was optioning righty Jeff Hoffman to Triple-A Albuquerque. He started on Tuesday in place of the injured Kyle Freeland and gave up four runs and fanned six in five innings in the 6-3 loss to the Nats.

Now, can Hoffman build on the progress he made on Tuesday, reduce a double-figures Triple-A ERA and earn his way back? The solid velocity and above-average curveball action have been there, but the savoir faire when trouble hits has to arrive consistently.

“This spring we saw some growth in Jeff in a couple different areas, and I was really encouraged when the season started we were going to see some of that carry over from spring into the early-season outings in Albuquerque,” Black said. “That didn’t occur. But it occurred last night, I thought overall, with the exception of a couple of at-bats in the third inning.”

Needing better from Anderson

The way the rotation shapes up, Freeland (left middle finger blister) could return Monday at Milwaukee to bring the rotation back to five. But one of Colorado's starters, lefty Tyler Anderson (0-2, 12.00 ERA), needs to be better.

Anderson returned from a left knee injury on Monday and gave up five earned runs on four hits and three walks in the Rockies’ 7-5 victory. He has succeeded for stretches with well-spotted strikes or pitches that look like strikes but dive and dart in the hitting zone. But since the middle of last season, Anderson has had too many “non-competitive” pitches that could easily be detected as balls.

“He’s got to pitch more aggressively in the strike zone,” Black said. “The use of the fastball has to come into play more, in good spots. The overall general mindset of going after hitters has to be shown through that game.”

Anderson’s next shot will be Sunday at Atlanta.

Reynolds bringing the glove

In three wins, Mark Reynolds has made key defensive plays at first base in Murphy’s absence. He made a nice scoop on a Nolan Arenado throw that ended a victory at San Diego, his split to catch Arenado’s double-play relay ended Monday’s victory and he made a diving stop to rob Adam Eaton on Tuesday night.

“These things go underrated; they don’t talk about them a lot, but these are plays that help you win games, plays that help [reduce] pitches thrown by your pitcher,” Black said. “All these things add up.”

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.