Murphy ready for game action

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Left-hander Tim Murphy hasn't pitched in a game since September 2010, but he underwent some mechanical changes while throwing bullpen sessions and is set for a return to game action this spring. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 24-year-old hurler for an interview.

Since being selected as a third-round pick out of UCLA in the 2008 MLB Draft, left-hander Tim Murphy has experienced a career of peaks and valleys.

After a promising first summer between short-season Spokane and Single-A Hickory in '08, Murphy had a disastrous full-season debut with High-A Bakersfield in '09. The southpaw pitched the entire season with decreased velocity––often sitting in the mid-to-upper 80s with his fastball––and posted a 6.80 ERA while surrendering 184 hits in 135 innings.

Because of his struggles, the Rangers moved Murphy into a relief role coming out of spring training in 2010. The club also lowered his arm slot, which helped add life to his upper-80s fastball. Murphy took to the changes quickly and pitched relatively well at Bakersfield before earning a promotion to Double-A Frisco.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound hurler began to hit his stride with the RoughRiders late in the '10 campaign. His velocity ticked into the 88-93 mph range to go along with a sweeping breaking ball. His command also improved. The result was a 1.59 ERA in 17 Double-A appearances. Over 22.2 innings, he allowed 19 hits while walking only four and striking out 23.

But just as Murphy appeared to be turning his career around, he hit a major road block. During a September 3 outing at Corpus Christi––in which he retired six of the seven batters he faced in two scoreless innings––Murphy's fastball suddenly began sitting in the low-80s. Although he finished the game and earned the save, the prospect had injured his left elbow and went under the knife for Tommy John surgery later that month.

Since that October, Murphy has spent the vast majority of his time rehabbing at the Rangers' minor league complex in Arizona. While he was back to throwing bullpen sessions at fall instructional league this past offseason, he didn't appear in any games.

The 24-year-old will step on the mound and face a hitter for the first time since that injury on Saturday (March 10) during a live batting practice session. He's currently slated to pitch in a minor league game late next week.

As Murphy explains in the following interview, he has moved his arm slot back up top––to where it was when he joined the organization nearly four years ago. The California native has looked good in his bullpen sessions, spotting up all three of his pitches with some zip on his fastball. Although they're only bullpen sessions, it's a promising sign for him as he gets closer to game action.

Murphy was profiled in a Rangers injury wildcards story earlier this offseason:

Another Tommy John victim, Murphy had the surgery on September 22 of last year and is also set to return at spring training in 2012. The southpaw appeared to be on thin ice after a disastrous '09 campaign at High-A Bakersfield in which he posted a 6.80 ERA as a starting pitcher.

Murphy righted the ship after moving to the bullpen and making some key adjustments in '10. Perhaps the biggest adjustment was lowering his arm slot to a more natural position. The result was increased deception, more life on his fastball, and––eventually––more velocity. He finished the year with a successful stint in Double-A––22.2 ip, 19 h, 4 er (1.59 ERA), 4 bb, 23 k. After throwing his fastball at 84-88 mph in '09, he ticked up to 88-93 late in the '10 season with Frisco. His sweeping 79-81 mph breaking ball also missed bats with the ‘Riders.

The UCLA product should begin next season in the Frisco bullpen. He––like Font––has completed his rehab process in Arizona and is currently at home preparing to return for spring training next March.

Jason Cole: You had a long rehab process out here. Can you kind of summarize how it went for you?

Tim Murphy: It was quite eventful. It was good. It was a great learning experience. Obviously it's very tedious. It's a lot of hard work. And it's also about what you put into it––I feel like that's what you're going to get out of it in the end. Throughout the whole thing, they have it pretty mapped out as far as the trainers and the full 12 months. They've basically got a day-by-day schedule for you. So that part was kind of easy.

But I felt like I was able to learn a lot off the field––kind of change some habits off the field as far as eating and nutrition. I felt like I never really saw how important that was in the past. I'm taking that into consideration now quite a bit. And conditioning––like I said, all the preparation and the off-the-field stuff. I felt like that was really a good learning experience, and I feel like I'm ahead of the game now as opposed to where I was prior to this injury.

Cole: Your first full season with Bakersfield in '09 was obviously disappointing. Did you feel the nutrition and overall off-the-field habits played a role in that? And were you beginning to change it when you turned it around in 2010?

Murphy: Yeah, absolutely. That first year––it was obviously my first full year in pro ball. I didn't quite know what to expect. It was quite an eye-opener, especially going out there to Bakersfield. Like you said, it was quite a disappointing year as far as my standards and results-wise. But it's in the past, and it's about what you learn from it. I felt like it was a really good learning experience as far as going into next year. I felt like I was in a little bit better shape––came in a little bit leaner. That type of stuff.

But I think the biggest thing of that turnaround in 2010 was that my confidence really came back. I felt like I lost a little confidence, and I think baseball is really about confidence. If you're not confident in yourself, then you're definitely putting yourself in a hole to begin with. I felt like that confidence came back, and I was really able to ride that confidence––getting moved up to Double-A and ending the season. Then obviously I blew my elbow out with three games left, but at least I was able to go in and have some success up there. That helped the rehab process out, too. At least I went out on a good note––it wasn't like I was still struggling. So that helped. I was back on track.

As far as the conditioning and the nutrition and the physical side––off the field––you really have a lot of free time on your hands out here. It's a lot of book reading, a lot of just gathering information from different sources. I developed a plan for myself and tweaked it here and there to get where I wanted to be and where I feel comfortable. So I'm happy with where I'm at right now.

Cole: As long as you're out in Arizona and in that rehab process, is it difficult to keep from eating poorly?

Murphy: Yeah, but I was fortunate enough––I was an old enough guy that I was able to live out. So that helped out. I was able to cook and do all my own stuff shopping-wise. I wasn't stuck in a hotel and having to eat out every night, so that helped out a lot.

As far as the rehab, the schedule is pretty much that you're here early in the morning and you're pretty much out of here by mid-afternoon. So that gave me enough time to go home and cook dinner––that kind of stuff. It also killed some time, too. Like I said, you develop a routine out here. I was able to cook and stay away from the fast food and that type of stuff.

Cole: It seemed that part of what led to your breakout with Bakersfield in 2010 was the lowering of your arm slot. Who was it that suggested that?

Murphy: That was kind of a combination. It came down from the top. Mark Connor worked with me a little bit. That was when he was still here––before he had gone over to the Orioles. We kind of made that change at the beginning of that second season in 2010––Bakersfield. And also the move to the bullpen.

I wouldn't really attribute it all to that. Like I said, I really think the main thing was confidence. That was probably the biggest thing, I felt like. And also by lowering that arm slot, I felt like it did bring my breaking ball back a little bit. Having that breaking ball really did help there, especially with those a little bit more advanced hitters.

Cole: It made your breaking ball a little more of a slider than a curveball, right?

Murphy: Absolutely. It definitely turned pretty slurvy. It wasn't the best thing on my arm, but we're back up top now. I've got that 12-to-6––I wouldn't say it's 12-to-6. It's more 11-to-5 still. It's definitely not as slurvy or slider-like as the last time I was on the mound.

Cole: So your are back to where you were mechanically in your college days and that first summer in Spokane?

Murphy: Yeah, I feel like I'm back. That was another thing with the rehab process. We were able to kind of re-work the foundation of everything––go back to the basics. We were able to work a little bit of arm-path stuff out. I had kind of a stab and a pause, I felt like, with my arm path. Now it's continuous, and it's not as deep, if you want to call it that.

So yeah––definitely back up top. I feel like I can stay through the ball longer and that type of stuff. I feel like that allows me to throw all three pitches, as well. The changeup has really come along, especially in the rehab.

Cole: Can you compare the mechanics to either '09 in Bakersfield or when you were in college?

Murphy: I would say, yeah––the best was probably that very first year in pro ball. The Spokane and Clinton yet––that half-season I had. I would say it's pretty similar to that minus, like I said––we kind of took the stab out. It's more of a continuous arm motion. And it's a little less rotational, especially with the lower half.

Cole: With the lower arm slot, it's probably safe to say you were better suited for relieving. But being back over the top with three pitches, is there a chance that you return to starting? Have they talked to you about whether you'll start or remain in the bullpen?

Murphy: I'm not quite sure. We're going to wait and see. I know we're going to kind of stretch it out a little bit pitch-wise. I'm not quite sure what the plans are, but I'm preparing as a starter but we're going to be able to go either way. That's basically kind of how we're approaching spring training this year.

Cole: Have they talked to you about where you will open the season? Will it be Frisco? Will it just be determined by your performance this spring?

Murphy: Obviously nothing is just handed to you. Obviously I'll have to earn the spot there. My main goal, yeah––it would be to get back to Frisco and start the season there. But as far as from what they've said, they haven't really said anything yet. It's still pretty early. We'll wait and see, and hopefully it will be Frisco.

Cole: You're throwing a live batting practice session on Saturday and on the first day of minor league games out here. How much are you looking forward to facing a hitter in a competitive situation again?

Murphy: Absolutely. I've been chomping at the bit. It has been quite awhile. It's been 17 months, I think. September 2010 was the last game I was in. So it has been a long time, and I'm sure there's going to be a little bit of butterflies. But I'm ready to go. Like I said, I'm as confident as ever, and I'm ready to make my charge.

Cole: When you're throwing on the side or getting into a game this spring, what areas are you focusing on?

Murphy: Really the main thing is just consistency at this point. The ball is coming out of my hand pretty good. I feel like I'm happy with where everything is at that way. Now it's just kind of dialing it in, getting that command, feeling comfortable, and being able to compete. Like I said, it's consistency.

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