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Murphy making progress at second base

Philadelphia Phillies' Shane Victorino steals second base as

Philadelphia Phillies' Shane Victorino steals second base as New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy handles the throw from home in the third inning. (April 29, 2011) Credit: AP

PHILADELPHIA -- Daniel Murphy is still learning second base, so it's not surprising that some of his best defensive plays this season have been the ones that can't be taught.

Murphy provided another example Saturday in the seventh inning of the Mets' 2-1 loss to the Phillies. With runners at first and third, Jimmy Rollins smacked a hard grounder up the middle that Murphy stopped with a diving grab. Then, from one knee, he fired a throw to Jose Reyes at second base, barely in time to get Shane Victorino.

As Murphy trotted off the field, he pumped his fist. The defensive gem not only saved a run, it killed the Phillies' building momentum -- and also earned him further admiration from one of his biggest fans.

"Unbelievable," Reyes said. "There's not too many second basemen who can make that play. I think he's been much better than anybody expected. I'm surprised how comfortable he's looked over there in his first year at that position."

Those types of do-or-die plays are perfect for Murphy, who works daily on the more technical aspects of the position. Before this year, in limited reps at second base, Murphy couldn't remember making a similar grab up the middle. Plus, it's not something that can be practiced.

"That's just reflexes," Murphy said. "You don't have time to think about anything."

Remember, Murphy is covering that ground with a brace on his right knee, a souvenir from the takeout slide 11 months ago that ended his season at Triple-A Buffalo. He suffered a tear of the medial collateral ligament but did not have surgery to repair it, so the brace initially was used to help stabilize the knee.

Murphy plans to stick with the brace for now but wants further tests at some point to determine if it's still necessary. He'd like to get an updated look at what's happening inside the knee almost a year later, even though he hasn't had any issues.

The Mets are satisfied that Murphy has been mostly problem-free at second base, as well. Basically, he hasn't hurt them, and that's enough as long as he continues to produce at the plate.

"He's getting more comfortable with positioning," manager Terry Collins said. "He's getting more comfortable with where he needs to be on things. I think the ground balls are never a factor because he was a good first baseman. I think his mechanics fielding are good. The part that I think he's been getting better and better at is around the bag. The tags, the double plays, and the more he plays, the more comfortable he's going to be."

That playing time could be increasing. Murphy was not in Sunday night's lineup for the series finale with the Phillies, but Collins thought about starting him against Cliff Lee before opting to use the righthanded-hitting Justin Turner.

When Brad Emaus was released April 19 and Turner was called up from Buffalo to replace him, the plan was to have a straight platoon at second. But Murphy is 3-for-10 with three RBIs in limited duty against lefties and was batting .288 overall with as many RBIs as Carlos Beltran (11) heading into Sunday night. He was hitting .444 (8-for-18) with runners in scoring position.

The Mets figured Murphy would hit wherever they decided to play him. The fact that he's turning into a serviceable second baseman has been a bonus, and a pretty big accomplishment on his part.

"That's a hard position -- I know from experience," said Reyes, who played 43 games at second base during an ill-fated experiment in 2004 to accommodate the signing of Kaz Matsui. "It's not easy. The good thing about him is that he works hard. That's important. He's always out there during batting practice taking ground balls and working on double plays. A lot of guys wouldn't do that."

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