Murphy hopes timing is right for more playing time with Rangers

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Houston-area Little Leaguer David Murphy showed up for his first day as a baseball player, circa 1989, wanting to be on the field all the time.

That hasn't changed more than two decades later as a valued member of the Texas Rangers.

His value, though, has been as their fourth outfielder the past four seasons, a role that has featured an average of 417 at-bats and 123 games per year thanks to a variety of injuries.

That's not bad, nor is the $3.63 million contract Murphy agreed to for 2012, but his paycheck isn't his motivation.

He's a Little Leaguer trapped inside a big-league fourth outfielder's body, wanting to play more regularly like he has in the postseason the past two years.

Murphy is hoping that a good spring will force the Rangers' hand come Opening Day, and put him on the field more without the need for a teammate to suffer an injury.

"The first day that you start playing baseball as a kid, you play to be on the field," Murphy said. "You don't play to be on the bench.

"I don't think I need to put pressure on myself. Everybody has a basic idea of what I can do. I just need to hone my skills more and more."

To that end, Murphy has made his defense a focus this spring. Murphy has never been considered a poor outfielder, but he isn't mentioned as one of the Rangers' top defenders.

Murphy said that too many times he has seen balls sail away from him that he believes should have been caught. He took the initiative of contacting assistant coach Gary Pettis, a former Gold Glove-winning outfielder, during the off-season to map out a spring plan to get better.

"David understands that he can be better out there," Pettis said. "No one likes it when we don't make a play that we think we should make. We're going to see if we can get him a little bit sharper."

That starts with getting a better jump on balls and running better routes, two things that can be aided by better timing.

Murphy has been flat-footed when a pitch reaches the hitting zone, and the split second it takes to get from zero to moving in the right direction has cost him in the past.

"The bottom line is there have been too many times a ball's been hit and I've been thinking to myself, 'Could I have made that play?'" Murphy said. "It's more so my setup. I need to make sure I'm balanced and ready the second the ball comes off the bat."

Even if he shores up his defense and has a hot bat, Murphy needs a little help to achieve more playing time.

He has to be better than Julio Borbon and Leonys Martin, left-handed hitters competing for time in center field. If neither has a good spring, the Rangers could be inclined to use Hamilton in center against right-handed pitchers and play Murphy in left.

Craig Gentry would take over in center against right-handed pitchers, and Murphy would sit as Hamilton shifts to left field.

There's also the fourth-outfielder label Murphy must shake. The majority of Murphy's playing time the past two seasons has come as a fill-in while Hamilton and Nelson Cruz have been injured.

Murphy also has been the Rangers' best pinch hitter, albeit in only a handful of at-bats.

"You have to have a guy like David Murphy on a winning ballclub," Pettis said. "A guy that could play possibly on any other ballclub, you have to have that guy on your bench if you want to have a good team."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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