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Tom Murphy’s unlikely journey from his couch to hard-hitting Mariners catcher

UPDATED: Mon., June 10, 2019, 11:35 p.m.

The Mariners’ Tom Murphy, right, is congratulated by Kyle Seager after hitting a two-run homer during the second inning against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday, June 9, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
The Mariners’ Tom Murphy, right, is congratulated by Kyle Seager after hitting a two-run homer during the second inning against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday, June 9, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

MINNEAPOLIS – When Tom Murphy was acquired by the Mariners on March 29 in a minor trade with the Giants, he pleased many people with the revelation that he’s a huge fan of “The Office” and was watching reruns at home when he found out he’d been traded to Seattle.

But the Mariners got something more than just a player who has quality taste in TV; Murphy is a solid right-handed-hitting catcher with power who forms the perfect platoon tandem with the left-handed-hitting Omar Narvaez.

In 24 games played, Murphy has a slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of .304/.329/.620 with four doubles, seven homers and 14 RBI, while working diligently to improve his defense.

“He’s got power,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “He’s a really competitive and intense guy. We talk about how hard he works. He’s done a lot of things with (hitting coach) Tim Laker, and it’s paying off.”

Thanks to some swing changes he made with Laker, Murphy has been on a hitting surge of late, with at least one hit in each of his past nine games and five homers in his past five games.

“I would say the mechanics followed the approach changes,” Murphy said of the work. “I’ve started working with Laker on those since Day 1 when I got here. I knew his pedigree of helping guys and I just submitted myself to whatever he had for me. And it’s worked pretty well.”

As with most hitters, Murphy wouldn’t share the exact specifics regarding the changes, but said they would be noticeable upon comparison to his previous swings before coming to Seattle. This was by his design.

“They were pretty hands-off,” he said. “I approached them before they approached me. I knew about Lake, and in talking with some guys that worked with him in the past, they had nothing but good things to say about him. I was just as eager as I could be to try this.”

Murphy had been stuck in baseball limbo coming out of spring training because of a lack of minor-league options. He was designated for assignment by the Rockies midway through spring training and claimed by the Giants on March 25.

He was then designated for assignment by the Giants just before Opening Day. The Mariners didn’t want to play the waivers game and lose out on a claim, so they made the trade to get an upgrade over David Freitas at backup catcher.

For Murphy, the opportunity provided by the Mariners has changed his career path. He was once a touted prospect with the Rockies, but never found consistent playing time at the major-league level.

“It means the world to me,” the 28-year-old said. “It’s the opportunity to play in the big leagues every day. Whether I start or back up, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to come here every day and make the most out of the opportunity.”

The Mariners love Murphy’s work ethic and intensity. He’s listed at 225 pounds, and it appears to be almost all muscle.

“He likes the weight room,” Servais said.

But it’s not just all bulk, Murphy is a quality athlete. Besides his relief pitching prowess, he runs the bases well. The Rockies used SPARQ (Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness) testing in their organization. It’s a system designed to measure sport-specific athleticism through a series of tests, and Murphy consistently had one of the top five SPARQ scores every season.

He starts when there’s a left-handed starter on the mound and also has become Mike Leake’s personal catcher. Murphy also has three relief appearances in mop-up time this year, displaying a 90-mph fastball.

“I’ve tried to keep my mind devoid of any playing-time stuff,” he said. “All I know is that I’m here, and I’m going to try and make the most out of it.”

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