Murphy mowin’ em down
April 17, 2008
Put J.R. Murphy on a mound and more often than not he’ll find a way to win.
He did at Truckee High, where he set the NIAA strikeout record, 139, and earned first team All-State honors his junior and senior years. He did at Yavapai College, where the All-American pitched his team to within one win of the JUCO World Series title as a sophomore. And now he’s doing it at San Diego State University, where the senior has compiled a 5-1 record and a 2.94 ERA in seven starts.
“It’s going really well. I’m pretty happy about it,” Murphy, 22, said of his season Wednesday between classes at San Diego State.
Most recently, Murphy beat Utah on the road this past Saturday.
Throwing 7.2 innings before reaching his pitch count ” somewhere between 100 and 115 pitches, he said ” Murphy scattered six hits while recording eight strikeouts and allowing two walks and no runs. The Aztecs won 9-2.
The win marked Murphy’s fifth in his last six starts, with the exception being a no-decision against New Mexico on April 5. He also has wins against Oklahoma State, BYU and Houston. His one loss came against Cal in his first start of the season on March 1.
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San Diego State, coached by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, is 22-15 and sits atop the Mountain West Conference with 19 games remaining on its schedule. At their current pace, the Aztecs could very well earn a berth in the 64-team NCAA Tournament next month. If they win their conference tournament they’re in automatically. Otherwise they must rely on an at-large bid, which Murphy thinks is possible considering the team’s strength of schedule.
Murphy got off to a slow start his junior year after undergoing surgery on his pitching elbow in December 2006. Coming back from the surgery, he pitched mostly out of the bullpen and finished the season with a 3.32 ERA in 10 appearances and 19 innings of work.
Settling back into his starter role playing for the Corvallis (Ore.) Knights of the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League this past summer, Murphy posted a 4-1 record and a 1.35 ERA while striking out 51 and walking 17 in 10 starts and 60 innings. He gave up 37 hits and held opposing batters to a .181 average.
It did wonders for his confidence, standing out on a team that featured 10 players from the two-time defending national champion Oregon State Beavers.
Back at San Diego State, Murphy pitched well during fall ball, then carried that success into the regular season. After pitching four innings out of the bullpen, he made his first start of the season against Cal in early March. He’s been a starter ever since.
In 52 innings, Murphy has allowed 51 hits, 17 earned runs and 12 walks while recording 47 strikeouts. He’s held opponents to a .252 average.
“I’ve been real happy with most my starts,” he said, breaking down exactly what part of his game he is most proud of.
“What I’m most happy about is when runners get on, a low percentage of them are scoring,” Murphy continued. “I’m not as much of a strikeout pitcher as I used to be, so I’m really relying on location. … I’ve also been throwing inside more than I ever have in my career. It’s not usually for a strike; I’m just trying to get the hitter to back off the plate.”
Murphy’s also enjoying the addition of a curveball to his repertoire, giving him four solid pitches ” a fastball, change, curve and slider. He started throwing the curve during the fall and, along with his other pitches, has had success with it.
His fastball also is gaining zip.
“I topped out at 90 last start,” he said, explaining that he was throwing in the mid-80s at the start of the season. “So it’s getting back to where I want it.”
As for the June major-league draft, Murphy said he is unsure what kind of offers will be on the table. So far, however, he has received at least 15 letters from major league teams. And even if he goes undrafted, Murphy said he’ll likely get an offer as a free agent.
“It’s all unpredictable right now,” he said. “I’m just concentrating on the season mostly.”
Next challenge: UNLV.