Stop us if you’ve heard this before: It’s late in the season and Daniel Murphy is on a tear.
Last year, the Mets were so seduced by Murphy’s strong August and September that they penciled him in as their leftfielder for 2009. He was a disaster defensively and now he’s a power-challenged first baseman on a power-starved team.
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Or at least he was power-starved before this month. A wave of home-run hitting – at least by Mets standards – has Murphy as the team leader with 11.
The Mets’ Mr. September has four home runs for the month and has 10 hits in his last 24 at-bats after going 1-for-4 in last night’s 3-1 loss to the Braves.
As the Mets’ decision-makers ponder the makeup of the 2010 squad, Murphy is a cheap alternative at first. But the team has to decide whether the 24-year-old’s recent surge is real or a mirage.
Manager Jerry Manuel has been preaching about not reading too much into September performances because of the quality of the opposition and the lack of pressure in what are basically exhibition games.
But he thinks that might not apply to Murphy because the lefthanded hitter did well late last season when the Mets were [ in a pennant race. Also, Manuel feels Murphy has made an important adjustment in learning how to handle inside pitches and pull them with authority, as he did on Monday when he homered off 15-game winner Derek Lowe.
“He was pretty much taking that pitch on the inside, and this year he’s putting a much more strong swing on that pitch and hitting the ball in the right-center gap or hitting it out,” Manuel said. “And I think that he’s seeing enough decent pitching because of some of the teams that are still in it that we’re playing. That gives me optimism that he could continue to do that over a long period of time.”
Murphy has been a favorite of Manuel’s since spring training, when he promoted him to everyday status and dissed Ryan Church in the process. Murphy hit .324 in April, but his offensive game eventually collapsed under the weight of his atrocious play in the outfield.
Now, he’s a rare bright spot at the Mets play out the string. His play at first has been spotty, but his bat has been solid. Overall, Murphy is batting .266 with 61 RBIs.
“I think he’s going to be what we all thought he would be,” Manuel said. “We always question where the power was. I think that you’re going to see a pretty good player with some power. I wouldn’t say 30-35 home runs.
I would say a guy who could hit 20-plus homers.”
Murphy is going to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic. More time for the Mets to see what they have.
“It’s a chance to get some free at-bats under a pressure stage,” Murphy said. “They take their baseball serious down there in the winter. I’ll go down there and try to play as hard as I can just like I do here.”
Notes & quotes: Nelson Figueroa (2-7) only allowed two hits in seven innings, but one of them was Yunel Escobar’s two-run single in the fourth inning. . . Jonathon Niese (surgery for torn hamstring tendon) is walking under his own power after using crutches and then a brace. He said he expects to be ready for spring training . . . Manuel said Pat Misch will be available in the bullpen tonight, an indication Misch’s days in the starting rotation are over after he allowed eight runs in 1 1/3 innings on Monday.