Murphy steps up for Texas with Hamilton out

Murphy steps up for Texas with Hamilton out

ANAHEIM -- Like the Mona Lisa or the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, David Murphy always seems to have a smile on his face.

It's not a goofy grin of a kid in the candy store but more like a sly smile that he has a secret that nobody else knows. This is a guy who never seems upset, mad or angry about anything, almost like he doesn't feel the pressure of being in the Major Leagues.

"I get mad every time I make an out," Murphy said. "Obviously I'm a professional athlete and competitive. You don't see my emotional side because I bottle that well. I get mad and frustrated like anybody. I just do a good job of hiding it."

So, has Murphy ever gotten mad enough at an opposing pitcher to charge the mound?

"No," he said.

Ever been thrown out of a game?

"No I haven't," he said.

Ever gone into the manager's office and asked why he wasn't in the lineup?

"I've thought about it," Murphy admitted.

Done it?

"No," he said with a smile.

Why not?

"Because I try to think along with the moves the manager makes," Murphy said. "I trust he feels he's doing what's best to help the team."

The feeling of trust is mutual with manager Ron Washington. Murphy started the season as the Rangers fourth outfielder behind Josh Hamilton, Julio Borbon and Nelson Cruz. But Washington took Murphy aside and told him not to worry, that the manager would get him playing time.

"David has never come in my office because David doesn't have to worry about playing time," Washington said. "I'm going to give him playing time."

Washington has been true to his word. He kept Murphy "engaged" and it has proved beneficial to both player and team. While the Rangers have been tending all season to injuries to Hamilton and Cruz, the one constant is being able to count on Murphy when there is a need in the lineup.

AL OUTFIELD PRODUCTION
Team-by-team offensive output by outfielders, ranked by on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS).
TEAM Avg. HR RBI OPS
Rangers .308 69 271 .861
Blue Jays .258 83 233 .813
Yankees .269 58 217 .795
Tigers .290 47 233 .792
Angels 268 63 243 .788
Rays .260 46 217 .763
White Sox .264 59 234 .757
Twins .270 45 259 .748
Orioles .277 43 177 .747
Royals .282 29 188 .740
Indians .264 39 206 .729
Red Sox .245 52 208 .725
Mariners .261 37 159 .712
A's .256 27 174 .678

He may still be classified as a "fourth outfielder" but Murphy's value has been proven to be of immeasurable worth to the Rangers.

"He's been just what we needed, even when we didn't know exactly what we were going to need," general manager Jon Daniels said. "Two years ago Marlon Byrd was called our "5th outfielder" in Spring Training, then he led the team in OF at-bats. Same thing this year with Murph.  Shows how critical depth is, and how selfless and team-first David is to stay ready and not complain while waiting for his opportunity."

Fourth outfielder is an important role on the Rangers and, while Hamilton has been dealing with his latest ribcage injury, Murphy is hitting .375 for the month of September, despite going 0-for-4 on Tuesday.

He is now approaching the .300 mark, not bad for a left-handed hitter who was hitting .151 on May 5. That was back when Washington was trying to keep him engaged by playing him only against left-handed pitchers. In previous seasons, Murphy often sat against left-handed pitchers while trying to fight the label of being a platoon player.

But his .282 batting average against left-handers this season is his highest in three years with Texas, further testament of his evolution as a hitter. He doesn't have Hamilton's consistent awe-inspiring power but he has taken the same approach as his All-Star teammate.

Back in March, these were two guys who could put on massive power displays in batting practice on the back fields of the Surprise (Ariz.) training complex. By mid-May, both realized batting practice home runs weren't getting the job done.

Murphy, like Hamilton, was once a dead pull hitter. Under the tutelage of hitting coach Clint Hurdle, he has learned to hit to the opposite field and not try to hit everything deep. He has learned to take what the pitcher gives him, which simply means that if he gets a pitch low and away, drive it to left field rather than trying to pull it.

"The longer you play this game, the more you try to learn about yourself and your swing," Murphy said. "Not doing too much has helped me be successful. I feel I've learned to hit better to the opposite field. I didn't trust myself before. Now I know I can and I'm trusting myself.

"You look at guys who are successful hitters like Joe Mauer and Michael Young and Albert Pujols. Those are guys who use the whole field. Those are guys you want to model your game after. In 2009, I tried to pull everything. I had some success but also continued to slump. It definitely got me in slumps. Pitchers consistently pitched me away. I had to make adjustments and I couldn't."

Now he can. It is the basic concept the Rangers need to get through the gripping hitting slump that they are dealing with on this West Coast roadtrip as they try to lock down the A.L. West title.

They talked about it during hitters meetings on Tuesday afternoon before a 2-0 loss to the Angels and Ervin Santana. Roll out the cliché: quit trying to do too much.

Murphy, like Hamilton, has absorbed the lesson. The Rangers "fourth outfielder" focused on what he could do better as a player rather than fret about when he was going to play. Now he is an integral part of their lineup. That is reason to smile.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.