Consistent delivery the key for Murphy

MODESTO, Calif. - Tim Murphy is having an up-and-down season at High-A Bakersfield, but the left-hander feels that he is learning and improving as the season continues. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 22-year-old hurler after a recent start.

With a 7.26 earned-run average in 105.1 innings, it is difficult to consider Tim Murphy's first full professional season a success.

The Texas Rangers' third-round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, Murphy was once thought to be polished for his age and experience, particularly after he tore through the Northwest and Midwest Leagues last summer to the tune of a 2.83 ERA in 47.2 innings.

Things haven't been quite as smooth for Murphy in '09. The left-hander has been inconsistent all season, and at certain times, he has struggled with just about everything imaginable.

Early in the year, Murphy had issues with his mechanics, leading to 30 walks and a 10.16 ERA in 36.1 innings over the season's first two months.

The UCLA product appeared to have it all straightened out in June, when he was 3-1 with a 2.18 ERA over five starts, surrendering just eight walks and posting an opponent batting average of .273.

Although Murphy walked just six batters in 25.2 July innings, he coughed up 28 runs on 47 hits. Opposing hitters teed off at a .388 clip.

Lone Star Dugout recently watched Murphy pitch in Modesto, where he surrendered five earned runs on five hits in 5.1 innings. He walked two and struck out three in that outing.

The 22-year-old actually pitched much better in his line in that contest, as a strong start was ruined by a couple of bad pitches and some poor defense.

Murphy worked in the upper-80s and low-90s last summer and during his college years, but the lefty's fastball now sits between 84-89 mph. Last week, he mostly sat at 85-86 with above-average command.

But the fastball command has been inconsistent for Murphy, and it is something that must show up more often, particularly when he doesn't have above-average velocity.

Murphy's velocity has plenty of time to return. It's hard to imagine that his velocity has disappeared at just 22-years-old. In 2010, with a full year under his belt and hopefully more consistent mechanics, Murphy's velocity could easily improve.

Against Modesto, hitters consistently fought off Murphy's 85-86 mph fastballs with foul balls. Because the heaters were well-placed, if the velocity were back in the 88-92 mph range, many of those foul balls would likely become swings and misses.

Murphy's curveball has been inconsistent all season, and it was also inconsistent against the Nuts. However, once he found the feel for the pitch, it was a legitimate swing-and-miss offering, resembling the curveball of last summer.

Tim Murphy's 2009 season hasn't been as successful as most had predicted or hoped. But Murphy believes his season isn't a lost cause developmentally. And Murphy is far from being a lost cause prospect-wise. The talented and potential is still there—the key is getting it out of him.

Jason Cole: First off, I want to talk about the start that I saw, which game on August 4. I know you probably weren't happy with your overall line in that game, but it seems like you did pitch better than your numbers ended up. Did you feel that way?

Tim Murphy: Obviously I felt that way. It has been quite an up-and-down year. A lot of downs and a little bit of ups. A lot of peaks and valleys. I felt like my fastball command was pretty good. Mechanics I felt were pretty good. I repeated them very well, in my opinion. It was probably the best it has been in awhile.

Like I said, it has been a learning year. I've learned a lot. Obviously there has been stuff I'm trying to work on here and there. But fastball command was good—that's what everything starts from. If you don't have fastball command, you're going to be in a lot of trouble. Especially the higher you go and the more advanced hitters are, that kind of thing.

I was pleased with the outing. That's baseball. Nights like that are going to happen. There's nothing you can do. You can go out there next start and try and do better and work on little things, like the couple mistakes I did make last night—that kind of thing.

Cole: This is your first year as a full-time pitcher, right? You still did some hitting last year, am I correct?

Murphy: Pretty much. Last year at UCLA, I got to swing it a little bit still. Yeah, this is the first time I've done it full-time with no hitting.

Cole: Do you miss hitting at all?

Murphy: Yeah. It was something I liked doing. It was something different. They are two totally different sides of the game. It's something else to do—you're playing every day and you're getting out there.

Pitching-wise, though, obviously my future wasn't in the outfield. It's on the mound. I've come to reality with that, and I'm totally fine with that. From here on out, I'm going to be a pitcher, so I might as well stay focused on that. It's a thing of the past. You can't look at the past—just go forward from here.

Cole: In that start I mentioned, you made a couple of athletic plays, coming off the mound to snag balls and firing them to first. Does all that time as an outfielder help you field your position on the mound?

Murphy: Every guy is different, but obviously it helps. I think I'd consider myself an athletic guy, at least. I definitely consider myself a fielder on the field. I'm not just a spectator. I take pride in my defense. When I make an error, I'm just as mad as an infielder or an outfielder when he makes an error. It is something that has always been instilled in me. Defense is a big part of the game, I think, and if you're going to be the ninth guy out there, you might as well be making plays.

Cole: What exactly have you been working on mechanically this year, and how big of a role has the mechanical work played in your season here?

Murphy: I felt like I came in this year and with my mechanics, there was just something off. I never really felt comfortable. I go back to last year, where I had pretty good success. I felt like I was repeating real well, especially in Clinton. Even Spokane last year.

That leads into all three pitches obviously. Your fastball command is there—it's a lot easier to do when you're repeating things. That was probably the biggest thing.

There was nothing drastic I changed mechanically. It was just trying to get to a more consistent delivery and, like I said, repeating is the biggest thing. If you're repeating, muscle memory and all that is going to come into play. It takes all three pitches to a different level.

Cole: Is there anything exactly that you've been needing to repeat?

Murphy: I have a different delivery than a lot of guys, I guess you could say. I've got a little twisting motion and all sorts of stuff. It's trying to get everything on-time, I guess you could say.

Probably the biggest thing was trying to get my arm ready to throw the ball when my front foot is landing. I guess you could say that's the best way to put it. I've been trying to repeat that over and over again, and that starts out here on flat ground and all sorts of stuff like that. When it's game time, you can't really think about it too much. It's all done in side sessions and that kind of thing.

Cole: How far do you feel you have come in terms of repeating your mechanics as the season has progressed?

Murphy: Some days are better than others. It has been a tremendous learning year. There is a bunch of stuff that I'll change in the offseason, from throwing program to lifting to how I look at things.

I mean, I feel like one of the biggest things this year is learning how to become a pitcher. I can't be a thrower anymore with these kind of hitters. The hitters get better and better every year and the higher and higher you go. You can't just rely on fastball and you're not going to get as many chases. You've got to show the ball in the zone and then get it out. All sorts of things.

I feel like I've had to become a pitcher this year, which like I said, I've had my ups-and-downs. That's part of it. I can't be just a thrower anymore.

Cole: How did you feel about your curveball in that start?

Murphy: I've actually been really happy with my curveball in the last three starts. I felt like that was something that really wasn't there and kind of hasn't been the same as it was last year.

I kind of look back to last year as my benchmark. It was really the first year I'd had a solid amount of innings and could take some stuff out of it. My curveball, I felt like, just hasn't been the same as last year until these last three starts.

High Desert, I went through and I don't want to say it came out of nowhere, but it was a lot more like it was last year. Then I had the start against Visalia where it was okay, and last night it was a little inconsistent, but the good ones that I threw, I felt like were a lot more like the ones last year.

That has been a big thing. I love my fastball. The fastball is my number one pitch—you've got to go with it. Last year the curveball was my number two and changeup was the number three. I felt like the change and curve were kind of sitting—nothing was really separating either of them. I feel like the curve has taken a little bit of an advantage kind of like it was last year.

Cole: What do you think has been behind your curveball turning around during these last few starts?

Murphy: It's just something I've been focusing on a lot. Maybe the arm slot is a little bit higher, maybe I'm just finishing a little bit more. It was in there. The question was just how to get it out. It just kind of came out and it has been rolling for the last week or week and a half.

The biggest thing is that the curveball is a feel pitch, just like the changeup is a feel pitch. Everything is clicking right now with it and I know what it is now. Hopefully it can go from here on out for the next six starts.

Cole: Did you throw the changeup much when you were in college?

Murphy: No. I mean, it was there. I got away with a lot of fastballs and curveballs in college. Obviously in pro ball, and especially being a starter, you're going to have to have a changeup. You've got to be at least a three-pitch guy with command of all three pitches.

I felt like Spokane was a lot of fastballs and curves. I started using the change there more. Clinton, with Danny Clark, stressed it even more. My good games in Clinton last year, I would throw a good eight or ten changeups that were decent changeups.

You've gotta have something to keep hitters off-balance and show them something different. Here, this year, I feel like I've thrown it a lot. A lot for me, I guess you could say. There have been games where I've used it ten, fifteen, or sixteen times. Or games like last night, where I threw it only one time.

It's just kind of a feel thing on how the game is going. It's definitely something that I need to develop and I've got to have command of that as much as I do the fastball and curveball if I want to stay a starter.

Cole: Another thing about last night—in the fifth inning, you had kind of a rough time although no balls were hit out of the infield. Just talk about being able to get out of that jam with minimal damage and staying composed even though you are making the pitches.

Murphy: That's just part of being a professional. Like I've said, that's baseball and crazy things are going to happen. There were two pitches and there were two guys on already.

I've always been a firm believer that you've got to take it one pitch at a time. You can't look too far ahead and you can't be looking at two pitches or three pitches. You've got to be committed to that pitch you're throwing right there. You've got to know what you're doing out there. You've got to know what pitch you're going to get a ground ball on. That kind of thing.

You've just got to go out and execute, and that's all you can do. When one of those type things happens, you've just got to go into damage control and eliminate it. You don't want to give up a four spot in that inning. Last night it just happened to be one run, and it could've been no runs.

But there are other times where I'll leave a ball over the middle of the plate and they'll pick me up. That's the biggest thing about baseball. You pick them up, they're going to do the same. That was just one of those things where I kept getting ground balls and that's all you can do.

Cole: Just looking back on your season as a whole, what are your general thoughts? Even though you've struggled, do you consider this a success because you've been able to learn so much?

Murphy: Obviously it has been a little disappointing if you go strictly by numbers. But I feel like I've grown a lot. If you ask me, ‘Will this happen next year?' I hope it doesn't, and I'm going to say it wont.

Like I said, I've learned a ton, from learning how to read hitters' swings to better pitch sequences to what I'm going to do different in the offseason. It has been my first full year in pro ball and I'm facing some better competition—that kind of thing.

It has been a success, I want to say, just because I've learned so much out of it. Hopefully I can take that and take what I've learned and implement it into next year and the offseason this year going into Spring Training. Then we'll see what happens.

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