Mets' Murphy eager for second chance at first base

New York Mets first baseman Daniel Murphy

New York Mets first baseman Daniel Murphy (28) hits a ground ball that is misplayed by Washington Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn (not pictured) and allowed right fielder Jeff Francoeur (not pictured) to score with the game winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning. (September 19, 2009) (Credit: Newsday/Photo by Chris Pasatieri)

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Fernando Tatis now ranks above Carlos Delgado on the Mets' radar, and that's good news for Daniel Murphy, who believes he's ready to make a big leap in his second full big-league season.

With Delgado not having shown the Mets that he can play first base regularly, the Mets have intensified negotiations with Tatis, 35, who followed a stellar 2008 season with a decent 2009. A one-year agreement is likely in the coming days.

A longtime friend of Mets general manager Omar Minaya, from their time together with the Rangers, Tatis recorded a .339 on-base percentage and .438 slugging percentage last year, and more important, he put up a .364 OBP and .459 SLG against lefthanded pitchers.

Tatis complements the lefty-hitting Murphy, whereas a return of the lefty-hitting Delgado - at full strength - might have relegated Murphy to a bench role. And the Mets have seen enough positive signs from Murphy that they'd like him to get more opportunities.

"You know what? He's learning," hitting coach Howard Johnson said Wednesday as the Mets closed out their minicamp at their minor-league complex. "He's still developing, I think. After the beginning of last year, he's starting to turn the corner.

"The way he finished, there were a lot of lessons that were learned in that period. So he retains well. That's why I really feel like he's on target to put up some really big numbers."

The promise Murphy displayed in his 2008 cameo earned him the starting leftfield job last year, and that shift fell apart because of his porous defense. Delgado's season-ending hip injury opened up first base for Murphy, who wound up with an unimpressive .313 OBP and .427 SLG in 556 plate appearances.

The Mets and Murphy believe the 24-year-old was too "one-dimensional," in Johnson's words, at the start of the season. When opponents started to pitch him inside, Murphy tried to hit those pitches the other way rather than pulling them. That he hit five homers in September and October, Murphy believes, exemplifies that he adjusted to the pitchers' adjustments.

Asked to assess his 2009 as a whole, Murphy said, "Definitely room for improvement. I think that's the first thing I could say. But also a learning experience. I made adjustments. I have something to build on, and that's what I've done."

A Jacksonville, Fla., resident, Murphy has worked many times this winter with Johnson, who lives about 30 miles south of the Mets' complex. He was the only regular player to attend the minicamp. He planned to drive home Wednesday and then return for good Feb. 7 (Super Bowl Sunday).

Notes & quotes: Before departing for his Phoenix home, Oliver Perez played catch and spoke extensively with Jerry Manuel, pitching coach Dan Warthen and bullpen coach Randy Niemann. The Mets again are trying to refine Perez's mechanics; Manuel said the key was for Perez to land, with his right foot, "somewhat open." Perez said he would throw off a mound twice a week until his arrival in spring training . . . Manuel said Bobby Parnell would be a reliever in spring training, and that Pat Misch would start.

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