SURPRISE, Ariz. -- One of the biggest competitions as the Texas Rangers begin spring training is in center field. Leonys Martin, Craig Gentry and Julio Borbon are all in the mix to win the job.
Manager Ron Washington believes all of them have talent, and the winner will be determined by who shows the most intelligence and game awareness.
Right field also can be viewed as a question mark because Nelson Cruz is facing a possible 50-game suspension after his name surfaced in a report that linked him to performance-enhancing drugs.
There's no uncertainty about left field, though. Washington has made it clear that the full-time job belongs to David Murphy.
Murphy, 31, played his way into an everyday role last season and finished with a .304 average, 10th-best among qualifying American League hitters. He also is entering a contract year, but that takes a back seat to duplicating his success.
"I would love to be here for a long time if we can figure something out, but the contract isn't a big deal," Murphy said. "The big deal for me is continuing what I started last year and proving that last year wasn't a one-time thing."
This is the first time Murphy has been labeled as an everyday player since the Rangers acquired him at the trade deadline in 2007 from the Red Sox. He carried the "fourth outfielder" label for years and, even though he always finished with more than 440 plate appearances, last year was the first time he met the minimum 502 plate appearances to be listed among league leaders in offensive categories.
Two notable things that held Murphy back in the past were his tendency to get off to slow starts and his struggles against left-handed pitchers. He has shed those issues the past two seasons.
Murphy batted .097 and .162 in April to start the 2009 and 2010 seasons, respectively. He turned that around in 2011 with a .268 April average but then dipped to a .191 average in May. Last year, though, he batted .267 in April and .250 in May.
"It's hard to come out of the chute and hit .300 in April," Murphy said. "I hit .260 [in 2011 and 2012], and I'll take that every year. Getting off to a good start definitely takes the pressure off."
Murphy also altered his approach against left-handers last season and saw better results. Instead of guessing fastball and whiffing on off-speed pitches, Murphy took a more sound mental approach and didn't try to do too much.
The result was a .347 average against left-handers, the best in his career. Before 2012, Murphy had a career .253 average against lefties. But Murphy knows the 75 at-bats against lefties last season is a small sample size.
"I want to see if I can do that in a bigger sample size," Murphy said. "I want to be as complete of a player as I possibly can be."
Murphy expressed a desire to face the top left-handers in the game, such as the Yankees' CC Sabathia and the Rays' David Price. And he certainly will get that opportunity, one that his teammates feel is well-deserved.
"He was really clutch for us last year, and we all know what he can do," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "We all expect him to be the same this year. He's going to play left field every day, and hopefully he helps us win the West."
Said Ian Kinsler: "I don't think last year was an anomaly by any means. He's a professional hitter who puts together quality at-bats. We already have known what type of player Murph is and what he's capable of being, and last year he showed it with the results."
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760