During the four years he spent splitting time between the Colorado Rockies and Triple-A Albuquerque, Tom Murphy never appeared in more than 37 games at the major-league level in any one season.
Expect that number to increase this season for the 28-year-old catcher, who the Seattle Mariners acquired in a March 29 trade with San Francisco.
Since landing in Seattle, he’s started five games, caught two different starting pitchers and nine different relievers.
Manager Scott Servais said Murphy made a strong impression from the first day he arrived in Seattle’s clubhouse.
“He’s very prepared watching video, interacting with his teammates, asking questions, learning from them,” Servais said. “I really like what I’ve seen.
“He’s really working his tail off. He’s probably one of the hardest workers we’ve got in here. Here just wants to get better every day. Everything from his receiving, to his throwing, to getting the extra work in the cage. And it’s paying off for him.”
Murphy’s had to play catch up because he did not spend spring training with the Mariners. He’s caught Mike Leake’s starts four times and Wade LeBlanc’s once. Servais said he plans to mix him in with the other starters as the season goes along.
Meanwhile, Murphy has been trying to learn all he can about the Mariners’ pitching staff.
“Being able to spend most of the games I’m not playing down in the bullpen helps me a lot, just because I can get to know these guys even better,” Murphy said. “So, during those late-game situations, where things might get a little hairy, I have a lot more familiar background with them than I would if I didn’t do that.
“I appreciate all of the time I spend with my pitchers, and getting to know them personally and professionally.”
Omar Narvaez, who bats left-handed, has filled the primary catching role since he was acquired from the Chicago White Sox during the offseason. Murphy, being a right-handed hitter, is a good pair with him.
While Narvaez has had the bigger share of starts behind the plate so far, the Mariners haven’t expected him to take on the work load former catcher Mike Zunino had.
Zunino caught more than 100 games in four of his six seasons with Seattle between 2013-18, including starting 101 games behind the plate for the Mariners last season before he was traded to Tampa Bay in the offseason.
David Freitas (32 starts in 2018), who was traded to Milwaukee earlier this week, Chris Herrmann (21) and Mike Marjama (eight) filled in for Zunino in limited capacities. None of them are still with the organization.
Ideally, Servais — a former catcher in his playing days — would like the starts to be split more evenly between Narvaez and Murphy.
“I always felt at times with Zunino, we really couldn’t afford to (give him a rest),” Servais said. “We didn’t have that guy, or you missed him so much behind the plate.
“I like this tandem. I like it a lot. It reminds me a lot of when I came into the league. I was kind of a platoon guy mixed up with a left-handed hitter, and it worked out pretty good.
“You probably won’t see us run either one guy out there for four or five days in a row,” Servais said. “It’s nice to just plug the other guy in and let him go.”
Leake said Murphy has called games well, maintains a strong focus in the moment, and has had enough major league experience to make a positive impact on games. Murphy played in 81 games for the Colorado Rockies over the last four seasons.
“He had a pretty good understanding of what he was doing,” Leake said. “He’s been in the league for a few years now, so he’s smart and he’s in it.”
Murphy, a lifetime .235 hitter in 213 major-league at-bats, has shown a solid offensive and defensive game. He’s played 44 error-less innings and has thrown out two of the four base runners who have attempted to steal.
“He’s made little adjustments with his receiving, little adjustments with his throwing,” Servais said. “He’s quick to adapt and try to put those things (into) play right away.”
Murphy said he’s worked with Mariners catching coordinator Tony Arnerich to develop his catch and throw more even in the past week. His career caught stealing percentage is roughly 30.
“The guy likes to work, and I do, too,” Murphy said. “We made a great connection and immediately got to work. … It’s something I’ve been practicing every day since. Some stuff he gave me has just been incredible, and I’ll continue to roll with it.”
In his past two appearances, Murphy has thrown out a base runner. He threw down Houston’s Yuli Gurriel on Saturday. And he caught Cleveland’s Leonys Martin — a former Mariner who has been a high-percentage base stealer during his career when healthy — trying to bag second on Tuesday night.
“He’s certainly got plenty of arm strength,” said Servais, who had a career caught stealing percentage of about 27 in 11 seasons in the majors. “One thing we’ve talked about with him is to kind of shorten up his footwork, and quicken up his footwork. ...
“And, when you’ve got arm strength, your time should be a little bit better than they were for him. But, throwing people out is about accuracy, and that’s what he did (Tuesday) night. He put the ball right there on the bag.”
Murphy is also 7 for 17 at the plate early on, and is slashing at .412/.500/.706. His most productive outing thus far came Tuesday night, his most recent start, when he finished 3 for 4 with two doubles.
“Murphy had a great night,” Servais said following the game. “He really did. Swung the bat well, made a nice throw from behind the plate. I thought he did a nice job calling the game. … Great to see.”