CLEVELAND: When David Murphy played for the high-powered Texas Rangers a couple of years ago, all he had to do was blend in.
Murphy, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound outfielder, was asked to make the routine plays in left field and move runners over and get on base while usually batting seventh.
The Rangers shed some of their star players heading into last season, and Murphy unconsciously tried to carry the offensive load. By the end of the disastrous season, he had hit a career-worst .220.
Murphy, the new Indians right fielder, signed a two-year contract in November worth $12 million, several sources have reported, along with a club option for 2016. He thinks he is a smarter player from the experience of last season.
“I tried to pull the ball a little bit more than I had in the past,” Murphy said. “I tried to hit the ball for a little more power than I have, instead of just being me.
“With the loss of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, I came into spring training last year very ambitious. That’s not a bad thing, but as a player you need to stay within yourself. But I kind of stepped out of who I was and tried to force myself to hit for power — and that made my swing a little longer. At the end of the season, I realized I needed to keep a small approach. I need to hit some line drives. If I get a mistake here or there, hit a ball into the gap and maybe hit an occasional home run. I need to just be a productive piece in the lineup.”
Murphy understands what he needs to do to help the Indians’ lineup.
“[It] is balanced,” he said. “One through nine it’s a solid group of guys who can really beat you. There might not be that superstar or a star power standout type of guy. But maybe it’s just because that guy hasn’t had that breakout season yet. [Carlos] Santana’s a guy who could definitely be a .300 [batting average] with 30 [home runs] and 100 [RBI]-type guy. [Nick] Swisher’s the same way.”
Murphy fits in well with the way the Indians go about their business.
“There’s just not that face in this clubhouse that you might identify as a face of Major League Baseball. But all the same, maybe that’s a good thing. You kind of go under the radar a little bit more and [opponents] don’t come to play as much. They think they can look at you on paper and come in and beat you with ease, when this is a group of guys who can hang with anyone.”
Murphy’s statistics last season (13 home runs, 26 doubles and 45 RBI over 142 games), were a considerable drop off from his career-best in 2012 in when he hit .304 with 15 home runs, 61 RBI and a .859 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging). His WAR (wins-above-replacement player) was 3.9 in 2012, only 0.4 in 2013.
Murphy, a left-handed hitter, has spent the majority of his career in left field, but he can play anywhere in the outfield.
“There are times where I just bounced around — played some in left, some in right,” he said. “I prefer to play one position consistently. But it’s not like it’s a must; I’m a guy who’s tried to be versatile throughout my career, and that’s not going to change.”
The only thing Murphy plans to change this season is his mental approach at the plate.
“Watching this group last year, they kind of reminded me of the ’09 version of the Rangers with how much fun and talent they had,” he said. “[Manager Terry Francona] came here last year and changed the atmosphere in the clubhouse, and then they added guys like Swisher and [Michael] Bourn. Jason Kipnis is a guy I’ve loved as a player ever since he came into the league. I know Justin Masterson a little bit, and obviously he’s a great pitcher. There’s so many great players on this team, I’m just happy to be a part of it.”