‘Murph’ returns to form
J.R. Murphy went under the knife and barely missed a pitch.
The 2004 Truckee High grad and San Diego State University junior regained his form on the mound in short order after undergoing surgery on his pitching elbow on Dec. 8.
“He’s pretty much back to where he used to be,” Rusty Filter, Murphy’s pitching coach at San Diego State, said. “He’s established himself as a really good reliever for us. He’s been really consistent.”
After pitching all summer for the LaCrosse (Wis.) Loggers of the Northwest League ” a collegiate Class A short-season league ” Murphy said he took a couple weeks off once he arrived in the fall at San Diego, where he transferred from Yavapai College (Ariz.) on a scholarship.
His velocity had dipped, hovering in the mid-80s instead of closer to 90 mph, as usual, and he began to develop pain in his right elbow.
Something was not right. That much was clear to Murphy, especially after a cortisone shot and lengthy rehab process failed.
What the 6-foot-3-inch right-hander didn’t know was that multiple factors were to blame, namely a bone spur in his throwing elbow as well as ligament impingement and loose scar tissue, he said.
“There was just a lot of stuff wrong with it,” Murphy said.
By late February the surgically repaired elbow was ready to go, and Murphy returned to the mound as a reliever during a Feb. 23-25 series with UC Riverside. Murphy’s first outing went well, he said, and he continued to build on it.
Now, 10 appearances and 18 2/3 innings later, “Murph” is back to full strength.
“It’s good to be back to normal,” he said, adding that watching his team play without him the first month of the season perhaps was most agonizing. “There’s no pain at all. It took a while, but I didn’t want to rush into it.”
A No. 1 starter at Truckee and Yavapai, Murphy had to adjust to a new role pitching out of the bullpen for the Aztecs.
The adjustment went smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, he was granted his first start on Sunday against Air Force.
“He took on the role (pitching from the bullpen) and said, ‘This is what I am right now and I’m going to be really good at it,'” Filter said. “That’s what earned him his start, and he did a great job.”
Murphy threw seven shutout innings Sunday, allowing just three hits while striking out four and yielding zero walks to pick up the win.
“It was nice,” Murphy said of his start. “But the pen is not so bad. I’ve kind of gotten used to it, and I kind of like it. The game is usually on the line.”
His numbers tell the story of his success pitching at the next level, particularly in Mountain West Conference play.
In 16 innings against conference teams, Murphy is 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA and one save. He has allowed seven hits and three runs while walking six, striking out 12 and holding opponents to a .135 batting average.
“I’ve gotten better at knowing how to throw against aluminum bats,” said Murphy, who is coming off two seasons pitching in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference, a wooden bat league. “You’ve just gotta be smarter about where you throw pitches and stuff. You can’t give them too much of the plate.”
Murphy, whose high school jersey number is retired in the outfield of the Truckee High baseball field, played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Yavapai College after becoming the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) single-season strikeout record holder (139) for Truckee.
In 49 1/3 innings in seven starts during his freshman year at Yavapai, Murphy compiled a 6-0 record with one save and two complete games. His earned run average, at 1.83, ranked 12th in the nation. Murphy allowed 32 hits and 10 earned runs while striking out 44 and walking 18. Opposing batters only managed a .186 average against him.
Through May 22 of the 2006 season, Murphy was 10-1 overall with one save and an ERA of 1.71. In 94 1/3 innings, he allowed 72 hits and 18 earned runs while striking out 104 and walking only 15. Murphy’s numbers earned him a spot on the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference (ACCAC) all-conference team and National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All American recognition.
To top off Murphy’s experience at Yavapai, the Roughriders played their way into the championship game of the NJCAA World Series, where they lost 7-6 to Walters State College (Tenn.).
Murphy was also selected by the Texas Rangers in the 38th round of the 2005 Major League Baseball draft. But he chose to stay in school.
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Students from North Tahoe and Truckee recently made the trip to Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley to compete in the annual Kays Ostrom Invitational.