Long before the three-hit day against Baltimore on July 23 and before the go-ahead homer in Minnesota two days later, Joe Girardi noticed John Ryan Murphy's composure.
That, Girardi said, was a key factor in the team's decision to keep Murphy on its 25-man roster out of spring training instead of going with a veteran -- your typical backup catcher -- and why the 24-year-old has been successful filling in for Brian McCann.
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"From a mental standpoint, he's sharp," Girardi said. "I think he's very mature, and I think we thought he'll figure this out. He'll figure out what works best for him. We think that he can be productive in this role."
Murphy certainly has been productive lately.
Making his 29th start of the season -- and second straight as McCann rested his ailing knee -- Murphy went 0-for-3 in the Yankees' 2-1 win over Boston on Thursday night. But he came in hitting 29-for-92 (.315) as a starter and 11-for-24 (.458) in his previous eight games (six starts). That stretch, which began with the three-hit game against the Orioles, raised his average from .247 to .297.
Murphy said he has not altered his routine at all.
"I think no matter what kind of role you're in," he said, "the more and more you play, the better, the easier the adjustment is and the more comfortable you are."
Though the lefthanded-hitting McCann (.256/.322/.474 slash line) has been more productive against lefthanded pitchers than the righthanded-hitting Murphy (.245/.259/.377), Girardi said he gave Murphy a few starts against southpaws during this recent hot streak. Then McCann injured his knee while trying to block a ball in the dirt on Tuesday, producing two straight starts for Murphy.
That streak of starts might end Friday night, though, when second-place Toronto (58-52) arrives for a three-game set with the AL East-leading Yankees (61-46) holding a 41/2-game lead. Girardi said Thursday that McCann could have caught on Wednesday night and felt better on Thursday.
Murphy would welcome a return to the reserve role, and not because he does not want to play.
"We need [McCann] back," he said, "so the sooner the better."
How's that for maturity?
McCann is hitting .254 with 18 home runs and 65 RBIs. He ranks third among major-league catchers qualified for the batting title with 2.5 wins above replacement.
Murphy said he and McCann have a mentor-mentee relationship and that the veteran has taught him "too much to talk about." Though he always would prefer to play, Murphy said he can become better just by watching McCann.
"I think that we pull for each other when the other one's playing," Murphy said. "We have no secrets. We can talk about anything. When he's catching, I'm trying to be inside his head and call the game along with him, and then vice versa. He's been great for me."