Murphy ready to take on top left-handers
Left-handed hitter aims to prove he can be everyday left fielder
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers left fielder David Murphy hit .347 against left-handed pitching in 2012, with a .405 on-base percentage and a .440 slugging percentage. All three numbers were easily the highest for him against left-handers in five full seasons with the Rangers.
The .347 batting average was the highest by a Rangers left-handed hitter against left-handed pitching in club history, and the 50th highest in the Major Leagues since 1974.
That is, among left-handed hitters with at least 70 at-bats against lefties. Murphy had 75 at-bats against left-handers in 2012, and that's not very many. It was only the 74th most at-bats by a left-handed hitter against lefties in the Majors last season.
"I want to be as complete of a player as possible, and one way would be if I can take another step against left-handers," Murphy said. "There is still more of a challenge for me against left-handers. What I did last year was in a small sample size. I would like to do it against a bigger sample."
The Yankees' Robinson Cano hit .239 against left-handers but had 243 at-bats against them in 2012. Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez had 230 at-bats against lefties and batted .322. Josh Hamilton had 175 at-bats and a .291 average against left-handers.
Murphy didn't start out the season facing left-handers. Instead, manager Ron Washington had him platooning with center fielder Craig Gentry while Hamilton alternated between left and center. But as the season progressed, Murphy started having success against left-handers and Washington became more comfortable using him against them.
"He was hot and he stayed hot," Washington said. "David always gives you good at-bats, and he was giving us good at-bats."
Now Hamilton is gone and Gentry, a right-handed hitter with a career .294 average against lefties, is competing with Leonys Martin and Julio Borbon for the center-field spot. Both Martin and Borbon are left-handed hitters so Gentry -- if he doesn't win the job outright -- could end up in a platoon situation in center.
That would leave Murphy to play every day in left field and pile up some serious at-bats against left-handers.
"I don't expect to play 162 games this year, but I'm up for any challenge," Murphy said. "If I get a chance to play against left-handers, I don't want it to be the fourth and fifth starters. I want to face CC Sabathia and David Price and all the top left-handers and see what I can do."
Murphy is 2-for-10 against both Sabathia and Price, as well as Cliff Lee. They are three of the top left-handed pitchers in the game. He is 4-for-11 against Andy Pettitte, including one of his six career home runs off of a lefty.
Washington made it clear that Murphy will get that chance.
"David Murphy is going to be my everyday left fielder," Washington said. "If anything changes, David Murphy will have to answer that."
Another consideration, though, is what happens if the Rangers decide Martin is ready to play center field in the Major Leagues. If so, the question would be if he plays every day or in another platoon arrangement with Gentry.
Martin is just 1-for-8 against left-handers in his limited time in the Major Leagues the past two years. This winter in the Dominican Republic, Martin was 18-for-67 (.269) with two home runs against lefties, along with a .333 on-base percentage and a .418 slugging percentage. Last season at Triple-A Round Rock, Martin hit .289 (22-for-76) with a .333 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage against lefties. Against right-handers, he hit .394 with a .463 on-base percentage and a .677 slugging percentage.
"He will get a chance this spring and then we will assess it," Washington said. "We're going to open it up to have him do everything and see how he does."
If Martin can hit against lefties, that would free up Gentry if Washington wanted to sit Murphy against them. Murphy's goal is to keep that from happening.
"I'd love the opportunity to see what I could do to help this team from Game 1 to Game 162," Murphy said.
Murphy said his breakthrough against left-handers came from taking a simple approach. In previous seasons, Murphy tried too hard to prove he could hit left-handed pitching and went up there trying to destroy them. He backed off last season and that created more success.
"Last year I took the simple approach of just trying to hit line drives up the middle and get hits when I could," Murphy said. "I know I'm not going to hit in the middle of the order against left-handers, but if I'm in the eighth hole, I can still be productive if I have a 10-pitch at-bat or get a single up the middle."
The Rangers could use more singles up the middle against Sabathia. The Rangers have 12 players in camp who have at least five career at-bats against Sabathia. Those 12 players -- both left- and right-handed hitters -- are a combined .223 off him with just four home runs in 161 at-bats.
The Rangers just need good hitters period.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.