Murphy eager to step into everyday role

“David is my left fielder,” Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington said earlier this spring.

Not his left fielder against right-handed pitchers. Not his left fielder when someone else gets hurt, but his everyday left fielder.

It’s been a long time in coming for Murphy, who got a taste of the role in 2008 in his first year in Texas and after the All-Star break last season.

But now as the Rangers prep for the 2013 season, Murphy will start the season knowing his name will be in the lineup on an everyday basis. It’s a good feeling for the Texas native but not one he plans on resting on.

“I knew what I was capable of doing and I started to show that last year,” Murphy said. “I still feel like there’s room for improvement. I don’t want to be content with what I did last year. I still want to build on that and see what else is in there.”

He showed what he could do last season when he played in a career high 147 games and had 521 plate appearances. Murphy batted .304, improved his game defensively and showed he had a knack for hitting left-handed pitching.

Murphy is hitting .266 for his career against left-handers and that number was boosted by a 2012 season that saw him hit .347 in 75 at-bats. That was a huge jump from a 2011 season that saw Murphy bat a paltry .215 against left-handers with just two extra-base hits in 107 at-bats.

In a then powerful Texas lineup, those kinds of numbers didn’t earn him much playing time against lefties. But with Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young no longer with the team, the Rangers need to get production from everyone in the lineup.

Murphy knows that means he’ll have to continue to hit well against left-handers.

“In my mind I knew I wasn’t going to get that big of a shot against left-handed pitching (before 2012),” Murphy said. “When I did I wanted to make a huge impact and kind of turn some head and open some eyes. Last year I took a simple approach and tried not to do too much.”

The simplified approach meant Murphy didn’t guess fastball out of the hand of left-handers and try to hit it out of the park. He waited for his pitch and laid off pitches outside the strike zone.

That doesn’t mean he’s figured out left-handers completely. He only has six homers against lefties in his career and hasn’t hit one since 2010. He had one that season. He’s going to get his chances this year.

“At this point I know I’m not a middle of the lineup threat against left-handed pitching,” he said. “But if I’m hitting down in the eighth hole I can still be productive if I work a guy, have a 10-pitch at-bat and hit a single with guys on second and third. That’s plenty of production for me.”

The difference for Murphy this year is that as of now, Washington won’t be picking his left-handers for Murphy to play against. That’s the way Murphy wants it.

“If I get the challenge to play against left-handers all the time, I don’t want it to be just against fours and fives,” he said. “I want to faces the (CC) Sabathias and (David) Prices and all the top guys to see what I can do if I get 550 at-bats.”

The timing for Murphy getting an everyday couldn’t be better. He’s eligible to be a free agent after the season. He’s set he’d like to stay with the Rangers but nothing is set yet. A big season for Murphy would not only benefit the club, it would help his future cause too.

That’s not on his mind right now though. Murphy, who came into Friday hitting .250 on the spring, is trying to improve on his solid 2012 season.

“I want to be as complete of a player as I possibly can,” he said. “If I can take another step defensively. There’s still a challenge there against lefties because what I did last year I did in a small sample size so I’d like to see if I can do that in a bigger sample size. I’d like to see if I could hit for more power but that’s not something you focus on. I still need to play my game. Each year as long as I play this game, I’m still going to try and take my game to another level in each individual category.”