PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Daniel Murphy's batting average sat under .200 for much of spring training, but he didn't seem to care.
His swing felt good, so he felt good.
According to Mets hitting coach Howard Johnson, that confidence in his approach represents the biggest difference in Murphy between this year and last.
A year ago, Murphy was the Mets' Opening Day leftfielder for only one reason: His bat. But the hits never came at the rate the team expected, and Murphy responded by doing what he thought he should be doing. He spent hours before every game in the hitting cage, taking swing after swing. He worked and worked and worked.
It reached the point that on some days there would be a sign on the door to the hitting cages banning Murphy; Johnson suspected the extra work actually was doing a disservice. This year, Johnson said, the message has sunk in.
"I'm working smarter, not necessarily harder," Murphy said. "HoJo and I have had a lot of discussions about how every time I take a swing, take a ground ball and everything else like that, it should have a purpose. Not just swinging to swing.
"Knowing that you have to play 162 games, if you feel good, then get out of there."
With a full season now on his resume, Murphy believes he has a greater understanding of how to best prepare himself for the grind of the schedule. That can only represent good news for the Mets, who desperately need Murphy to evolve into the consistent hitter they have envisioned.
The Mets opted against an upgrade at first base and stuck with Murphy even though he was coming off a disappointing 2009 season (.313 on-base percentage, .266 batting average). The decision was partly motivated by the fact that the team views top prospect Ike Davis as its long-term answer at first base and believes he's about a year away.
But with outfielder Carlos Beltran out for at least the first month and shortstop Jose Reyes on the DL after dealing with thyroid issues in spring training, Murphy suddenly becomes an important cog in the batting order. Unfortunately, he will miss 2-6 weeks with a sprained MCL.
When he returns, whatever offense his bat provides is not just a luxury, it's a necessity.
While he knows that, he insists that if he struggles early, he's not going to respond the way he did last season, by spending too much time in the cages. He plans to trust himself and the work he's already done.
"It's a long season," Murphy said. "No reason to press if you're not swinging the bat the way you like for a game or two.
"You try to correct it as soon as possible. With some of the struggles I went through last season, the learning curve I have now, the time for adjustments should be a lot shorter."
Johnson also believes Murphy's comfort level at first base - which seemed to be increasing by the day in spring training - also will help his confidence level as a major-leaguer.
It's no secret that Murphy was far from comfortable in leftfield last season. But he showed a surprising comfort level at first base in the second half, even though he had been moved there on the fly without any training.
With some help from special instructor Keith Hernandez during the offseason, Murphy said he spent spring training learning the intricacies of a position that is tougher than it looks. The early results have been positive.
Manager Jerry Manuel said he likes how "lively" Murphy appears at first base. Johnson even felt comfortable describing Murphy as "a very, very good first baseman."
The biggest thing Hernandez stressed, Murphy said, "is being prepared for every situation," which is a good way of summing up Murphy's overall mind-set this spring training. Off a disappointing first year, Murphy is looking forward to rewriting his script.