Ultimately, when it came time to upgrade first base for this season, Omar Minaya gave up calling other teams and agents. Instead, the Mets' general manager phoned Keith Hernandez last week and talked to the 11-time Gold Glove winner about tutoring Daniel Murphy, the converted leftfielder.
While Murphy tries to get comfortable, Hernandez is stepping back into a familiar role. He worked with Todd Zeile and John Olerud during their time with the Mets, but the inexperienced Murphy represents a much bigger challenge.
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Murphy made 97 starts at first base last year and believes his time with Hernandez will help him make a quick climb up the learning curve.
"I think it's going to help a lot," Murphy said. "You say I was stuck [at first base]. If I stayed in leftfield, I might not have stayed in the big leagues, so they gave me an opportunity at a new position. I think I can get a lot better. Once I learn my fielders and my pitchers, I feel like I can do very, very well over there and hopefully become quite an asset."
The Mets would settle for adequate in the field, as long as Murphy can further develop as an offensive player. He showed some promise at the plate, batting .266 with 12 home runs in his first full season. Defensively, Hernandez suggested that his pupil has both the athletic ability and work ethic to improve significantly. He spent the past two days working with Murphy at the minor-league facility in Port St. Lucie.
"Practice makes perfect," Hernandez said. "He's got to get used to covering the bag and getting his footwork around the bag. Hopefully, it becomes second nature.''
Murphy admitted that he played too far off the bag at times last season. Even so, Hernandez liked that Murphy's mistakes were due to an aggressive approach.
"For Dan last year, in midseason to have to move over to first base, and basically learn on the job at the major-league level, that's a lot to ask," Hernandez said. "And I just thought that he really did admirably. I was surprised at how he played first base. It was much better than I expected."
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