Mets' Murphy set for second chance
High-average hitter hoping for healthy, productive 2012
At the New York Mets' annual Christmas party for local children, Daniel Murphy played Santa Claus. All bulked up with the appropriate stuffing, and equipped with a hearty ``Ho! Ho! Ho!,'' Murphy entertained 100 or so children and listened to all manner of holiday wishes.
If Murphy had one wish of his own, it would be a healthy full season, something he hasn't enjoyed in two years.
Murphy's right knee was torn up in a Minor League collision at second base in 2010, ending his season in June. Then his left knee sustained the same injury in another second base collision in 2011, finishing him in August.
Now after going through another rehabilitation, Murphy is back and the Mets, anxious to have his bat in the lineup every day, have him penciled in as the starting second baseman for 2012. And that idea, despite the past problems at that position, is fine with him.
``I'm going into Spring Training trying to win a job,'' he said. ``If it's second base, I'm prepared and capable of doing that.''
The trick for the Mets is to find a place in the field for Murphy to enable them to keep his bat in the lineup. He was hitting .320 and was among the National League's top-five hitters for most of the season when he got hurt last year. As a rookie in 2008, he batted .313 in 49 games. The next year, he led the Mets in home runs with 12 and had 38 doubles, 12th best in the National League.
``From everything I've heard, they want me in the lineup,'' Murphy said. ``You've got to play defense. I've been there twice and got hurt twice. I've got to make that my second home.''
Murphy has played just about everywhere at one time or another. Originally a third baseman, he was slotted in left field at the start of 2009. That experiment lasted just 27 games before he switched to first base. After injuries cost him all of 2010, Murphy was waiting in the wings and became the everyday first baseman last May when Ike Davis went down with a season-ending ankle injury.
But a lineup shuffle had him back at second base on Aug. 7, when Atlanta's Jose Constanza barreled into him colliding with his left leg. Murphy knew immediately what had happened because he had been through it before. He does not blame Constanza for the injury.
``He did what I do,'' Murphy said. ``He came in hot, trying to help his team win a game. I've watched the play up until his spike hit my knee. I was behind the bag, not in position to defend myself. I know how the story ends -- eight to 10 weeks to get healthy. I've got to get in a better spot there. There's no doubt about that.''
So after he completed his injury rehabilitation, Murphy started spending serious time working on technique around the base. He is confident he can master it and solve one of the many question marks surrounding the Mets. ``The toughest part is the pivot,'' he said ``Your back is to the runner. I've got to get more comfortable with that. I'm familiar with the drills from last spring."
The Mets toyed with having Murphy at second base last season, but that plan was scrapped when Davis got hurt and Murphy became the first baseman. Now, with Davis healthy again, Murphy is expected to return to second.
He is healthy and ready for the challenge. ``I'm doing everything right now,'' he said. ``I feel great, healthier every day.''
His Santa Claus assignment carried some baggage. Kris Benson and Jeff Francoeur were traded the year after filling the role, and John Maine and Mike Cameron suffered injuries that required surgery. Murphy was not troubled by St. Nick's history.
``Johnny Franco did it for something like 14 years here and he did OK,'' he quipped.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.