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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Murphy showing dexterity and a little more pop

The Mets' Daniel Murphy circles the bases after

The Mets' Daniel Murphy circles the bases after hitting a two-run home run against the Colorado Rockies in the ninth inning Thursday. Photo Credit: AP

DENVER - Daniel Murphy was packing a duffel bag for the trip to Colorado this week when he was asked about the black first baseman's glove tucked in with the rest of his gear.

Murphy, who began this season as a leftfielder, has been using the brown one borrowed from Carlos Delgado ever since he took over the position May 20 in Los Angeles. So why hasn't he switched to the newer, personalized model?

"It's not game-ready," he said. "I'm not good enough over there to use a glove that's not game-ready."

Maybe not, but Murphy is getting to that point, thanks to an aggressive style and surprising mobility that has impressed the Mets in a season in which little has gone according to plan.

Murphy has started six double plays since the All-Star break, tying him with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder for the most in the majors among first basemen.

The toughest double play for a righthanded first baseman is the 3-6-3 variety, when he has to make a long throw against the momentum of his body and then hustle back to the base. But the move has looked like second nature to Murphy, and it's no coincidence that he's up with the league leaders in that category.

"Right after the All-Star break, Jerry [Manuel] told me that if we have a double play, we've got to turn it," Murphy said. "Our job is to execute it. I know that once I get to the ball and throw it in that area, our middle guys are so good that we'll turn it."

As one of the few healthy regulars this season, Murphy has had plenty of practice. He made his 75th start at first base in yesterday's series finale against the Rockies. Among the Mets, only third baseman David Wright (116) and second baseman Luis Castillo (110) have started more games.

Entering this season, the Mets were worried that Murphy would be a liability in leftfield, and those fears turned out to be legitimate. But Manuel was even more skeptical that Murphy would be able to handle the switch to first base. Now he has convinced the manager that he can be a long-term solution at that position.

The questions now, however, involve whether he can be a run-producer in that role. As the Mets make their evaluations for 2010, they'd like to see more power from Murphy, who has shown more pop as the season has progressed.

When asked if Murphy could be his club's first baseman next season, Manuel points to different positions on the field - third base, leftfield, catcher - and says it depends on what the Mets expect offensively from those other spots.

As for Murphy, he launched his eighth home run in yesterday's 8-3 win over the Rockies and is batting .315 (23-for-73) with 10 doubles, a triple and 11 RBIs in his last 19 games. One of those doubles should have been a home run, as Murphy crushed a 430-foot fly ball to the deepest nook of Land Shark Stadium in Miami.

Beginning July 20, he is 47-for-160 (.294) with a .469 slugging percentage, three homers and 20 RBIs in 43 games, 40 of which were starts.

Although he's known as more of a gap hitter, Murphy has ripped some tape-measure shots at cavernous Citi Field. Hitting coach Howard Johnson believes he can become more of a slugger as he matures at the plate.

"He's still developing," Johnson said. "He's in the process. This has been a challenging year for him, but he's survived that period and he's on the other side now. He's kept an open mind and tried to learn, and I give him a lot of credit for that."

That process has involved adjusting to how pitchers have attacked him during his sophomore season. Previously, Murphy stood close to the plate, ever mindful of protecting the outside corner. But now, after getting pounded inside repeatedly, he has stepped back some and has gained more power by opening up his swing to that inside fastball.

"If he's going to play first base, we need him to drive in runs - not just get on base," Johnson said. "And he should be able to do that because he's strong and he's got good bat speed. I think he can do it."

New York Sports