Murph mowin’ them down at Yavapai College
J.R. Murphy is doing it again: whiffing batters and winning games in his familiar role as team ace.
Murphy, a 2004 Truckee High graduate and Nevada’s single-season strikeout record holder (139), is leading his No. 3-ranked Yavapai College (Ariz.) Roughriders into the postseason with a 7-1 record and one save. In 65 and two-thirds innings, with a week and a half remaining in the regular season, the sophomore has amassed 81 strikeouts while allowing just 45 hits and 11 walks.
“He’s improved tremendously, and it’s a testament to his work ethic,” Yavapai pitching coach Jeff Casper said of Murphy. “He went from being a very talented freshman to ace of our staff, and he’s continuing to run with it. He’s one of the best pitchers in the league. I wouldn’t trade him for anything.”
And Murphy was no slouch last year, when the freshman pitched his way onto the starting rotation and helped his team earn a 10 spot in the national rankings before the Roughriders lost in the first round of the playoffs.
In 49 and one-third innings in seven starts as a freshman, Murphy posted a 6-0 record with one save and two complete games, a 1.83 ERA and 44 strikeouts. He allowed 32 hits and 18 walks.
With nearly two seasons of experience pitching in the competitive Arizona Community College Athletic Conference under his belt, Murphy is more self-assured than ever.
“It’s a lot of pressure sometimes (being the ace of the pitching staff), but at the same time I have a lot of confidence that every time I take the mound I’m going to win,” Murphy said Wednesday after lifting weights with his team. “I think as a pitcher you’ve got to be a little cocky. You’ve got to have that swagger.”
That swagger combined with the success he had on the mound last season drew attention from major league scouts, as the Giants, Rangers, Indians and Blue Jays expressed interest in the 6-foot-3 right-hander. With the Rangers offering a contract that was too low to bite on, Murphy decided to return for his sophomore season at Yavapai in order to raise his stock.
On Nov. 15 Murphy signed a letter of intent to play at San Diego State University for head coach and future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
Murphy, who is set to receive a scholarship that will cover about 75 percent of his tuition, said he is talking again with the Rangers scout who signed him and still might go that route if he receives an offer exceeding $300,000. But he doesn’t think that’s likely.
“It’s looking like I’m going to go to San Diego State,” he said. “I’m probably going to go there one year, then sign after my junior year.”
Immediately following this season ” which he hopes will stretch all the way through June 3, the date of the national championship ” Murphy will play in the Northwoods League in Minnesota, a prestigious collegiate summer league.
“Unfortunately, it will be my first time away from Truckee for a summer,” he said.
Murphy believes his decision to pitch for Yavapai after graduating from Truckee was wiser than trying to compete as an underclassman at a four-year college.
“I think that for young athletes coming out of high school, the junior college route is best. I think coming to Yavapai was the best thing for me. There’s plenty of exposure and good weather,” he said, adding that the temperature in Prescott on Wednesday was 76 degrees, without a cloud in the sky. “I couldn’t be more happy coming here and playing with (teammates) who will probably play a lot of professional baseball.”
And that’s another thing: Yavapai had 10 players who signed after last season, Murphy said, and there are sure to be others this year.
In part, Murphy credits a superb defense playing behind him and potent offense for his success.
In starting on the mound every Saturday over the course of the season, Murphy has developed tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. But it’s nothing serious, he said, and nothing that prevents him from throwing well.
“It pops up here and there, but it hasn’t been too much of a downer,” he said. “It’s not an excuse if I do bad.”
To remedy the tendinitis, Murphy visits the training room every day. He applies a heat pack to his shoulder before throwing, then receives an ultra sound, ice and electric stimulation after.
Murphy has never missed a start, though, and doesn’t consider the tendinitis a setback.
Casper, the Yavapai pitching coach, is not worried, either.
“He’s going to do just fine, whether he goes to San Diego State or signs in the draft,” Casper said.
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Students frustrated at the cancellation of sports waved signs and delivered speeches at a Truckee High School protest in an attempt to return to the field this year.