Oakland A's Q&A: Donnie Murphy, IF

Donnie Murphy's first season as part of the Oakland A's organization was a memorable one. He began the year with Triple-A Sacramento and parlayed a good start with the River Cats into an opportunity in the major leagues. Oakland liked what they saw and have cleared a path for him to stay in the big leagues by dealing Marco Scutaro. We spoke with Murphy about his season and his thoughts on 2008.

After a 2006 season marred by a variety of injuries, including a broken hamate bone, Donnie Murphy enjoyed a season of strong production and relative good health in 2007. Murphy began the year in Triple-A Sacramento. Despite having appeared in 39 major league games before the 2007 season, Murphy had never played at Triple-A before this past year. He got off to a good start with Sacramento, batting .354 in his first 25 games.

He missed almost three weeks in May with an injury, but he picked up where he left off when he returned to the field, posting an 821 OPS during the month of June in Triple-A. Murphy also spent a little time with Oakland during the month of June, although he only got three at-bats with the A's.

Murphy played at short, second, third and in the outfield for Sacramento.
Thanks to injuries to Eric Chavez and others, Murphy got a chance to contribute on a more regular basis at the major league level in late July. He remained with the A's from July 26 until the end of the season. He missed two weeks with a strained oblique muscle, but still managed to get 89 at-bats in August and September with Oakland.

In 118 at-bats in the major leagues, Murphy batted only .220 with a .290 OBP, but he showed surprising power. He belted six homeruns, a pace that would have given him 26 in 500 at-bats. Murphy played primarily at shortstop with the A's, appearing in 31 games at short, two at second and one at third. He committed five errors in 135 chances, but he flashed a strong arm.

Murphy's performance in 2007 was strong enough to earn the confidence of the A's front office. The A's dealt utilityman Marco Scutaro to Toronto in November and A's Assistant GM David Forst indicated that Oakland's desire to see more of Murphy at the major league level was one of the driving forces behind the team's decision to deal Scutaro.

We recently caught-up with Murphy, who is in the midst of his off-season workout program at his home in the Phoenix area.

OaklandClubhouse: First of all, how are you feeling? I know you finished the year a little banged up.

Donnie Murphy: Yeah, I had to have an appendectomy. It was an emergency, a freak thing. It felt like a really bad stomach ache. I told them all day that it was bugging me, but everybody just thought it was a bad stomach ache. Finally I had to go up to them in the middle of the game and say, ‘I don't think that it is a stomach ache' and they sent me to the hospital. When I got there, they said I had to get [my appendix] removed.

OC: Did you have to stay off of your feet for a few weeks?

DM: I didn't start doing anything too active for about three weeks afterwards, but I think I recovered from it pretty quickly. I was able to do stuff within a week, but they told me not to do any heavy exercise for about three or four weeks.

OC: Looking back, how do you feel your first season with the organization went? Did you feel like it was a good season for you?

DM: I took it as a positive. I probably didn't get the results I wanted to with some of the bad fielding errors I had [at shortstop in the major leagues], but I felt like I showed that I could handle [the position] up there. So I took it as a positive what I was able to accomplish this season.

OC: You got much better results at the plate during your stints with Oakland this season as compared to your previous stints in the major leagues with Kansas City [17 hits in 104 at-bats with KC]. Was there a difference with the way that you approached your major league at-bats this time around?

DM: I think in the past, it was more an issue of pressing more than anything. I think I just wasn't having as much fun. This time around, I was a lot more relaxed and I was having a lot more fun out there. I more approached it like it was the game that I played when I was a little kid, just being relaxed and not taking things too seriously. Obviously, it's a job, so you have to take it seriously, but at the same time, you have to have fun with it, and I think this time I did that instead of pressing.

OC: Was there a game this season at the major league level where you came away really feeling like, ‘hey, I can hit with these guys'?

The 2007 season was Murphy's first at Triple-A.
DM: Oh, yeah. When I had my DL stint for my ribcage injury, I came back and went 3-5 right off of the bat, or 3-4 or something like that [3-4 with a homer and two RBI versus the Angels], and I guess I felt comfortable up there, like I belonged definitely that game.

OC: Obviously you have been paying attention to the team's off-season moves. With Marco Scutaro being traded, does that give you more motivation and more confidence coming into spring training, knowing that there is a real spot on the roster to be competing for?

DM: Definitely. I feel like I have more motivation because I feel like they definitely have more confidence in me now. I am working really hard because I want to win this spot more than ever now.

OC: Has there been much discussion among the players on the A's about the Japan trip to start next season?

DM: Yeah. I have been working out with Travis Buck and Dan Johnson and our strength coach, Clarence Cockrell, and we've been talking about it basically every day. I think everyone is excited about it and it is just one of those once-in-a-lifetime kind of deals. I think it is going to be a good experience for everybody.

OC: You got off to a good start with Sacramento this season. Was that important to you after going through a rough season with Double-A Wichita the year before?

DM: Yeah, I think it was. I spent a lot of time being injured last year and I think coming into this year, I just really wanted to stay healthy. I always want to get off to a good start. I happened to go to Sacramento to start this season and did a lot of good things and got my numbers up. The main issue was just staying healthy and getting some at-bats. Last year [with Wichita], I felt like every time I was going well, I'd get hurt, miss time and have to start over, and I'd get off to a slow start after each time back. This year, I felt like I was more consistent.

OC: Are you going to be working on your defense just at shortstop this spring, or are you looking to offer more of a utility glove and play all over the infield? I know you've played a lot of second base and some third base in the past.

DM: I haven't really talked to anyone with the team, but obviously without Scutaro here, we need someone who can play all over [the infield]. I know that Mark Ellis will be around [in Phoenix] this off-season, I will probably be doing some work with him and I am definitely going to take a ton of groundballs everywhere around the infield this off-season. And if they ever need me to go play out there in the outfield, I'm up for that too. I did play one game out there while I was with Sacramento. I'm ready for that if they need it too.

OC: I know that the circumstances between this off-season and last season for you are a lot different in that you were coming into a new organization last year and this year you are returning to the same organization having played a significant number of games in the big leagues. Does that change your approach to your off-season preparations?

DM: No, I think I am going to keep the same focus. The main difference is that I feel a lot more relaxed. Last spring training was really all about trying to get to know everybody. Now I have gotten some time up there, which has given me a chance to get to know everyone and make some good friendships, and now I am working out with some of the guys already, it's a lot of fun. I feel a lot more relaxed.

OC: Was there a big difference between the Kansas City organization and the A's organization?

DM: I think the biggest difference is that with Oakland, they let you play the way that got you there. They aren't going to try to make a major change, they are just going to let you play your game. The thing about Kansas City was if they saw something in your game they didn't like, they'd try to make a big difference. It kind of got into your head a little bit and kind of got you to think a little bit too much. The biggest difference with Oakland and Kansas City was that, mainly.

OC: You hit a surprising number of homeruns during your 120 or so at-bats in the major leagues this season. Were you surprised with how frequently you were able to clear the fences in the major leagues or do you see that as a big part of your game?

DM: I wasn't really surprised. When I get some pitches I can handle, I think I can do it. The funny thing was that I didn't hit for much power with Sacramento, which was surprising to me because I hit for a lot of power in Double-A the year before [14 homers in 366 at-bats]. I wasn't really surprised [with the homers in the major leagues this season] because I think I have done it in the past. I think that I was able to do that against the quality of pitching I saw was a little bit of a surprise. Just getting those six homeruns in the 120 or so at-bats was probably a surprise because of how quick I got them. I would have thought six in 200 at-bats would have been fine, but I'll definitely take six in 120 at-bats. [laughs]

OC: What are the biggest differences between Triple-A and the big leagues in terms of the level of play that you have noticed?

DM: You've got your older guys in Triple-A who have major league experience so they know what they are doing, but obviously the guys in the big leagues are there now and they have got the stuff to prove it. The pitchers in the big leagues are much smarter [than in Triple-A]. It's just a guessing game sometimes. Even when you are in a hitter's count, you might not ever get that fastball. You always have to be on your toes. I think that is the biggest difference between Triple-A and big league pitching.

OC: Is there a particular aspect of your game that you are looking to improve on next season?

DM: I would like to improve my defense and my footwork. I have been working on it a lot this off-season and I think it has been helping. My overall first-step quickness, I want to be better. I want to improve my range. I also want to cut-down my strike outs. I struck out a lot last year, which is something that I don't normally do, I don't think. I just want to come in this year and have a different plan at the plate. Work on my two-strike approach a little bit. They're not major things. They are just little things, but I think if I work hard on them, that will definitely help me out.

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