Murphy continues with his ‘K’ ways
Gone are J.R. Murphy’s glory days as a Wolverine, when mowing down overmatched high school hitters was routine, and his prolific strikeouts placed him in the record books.
That chapter of Murphy’s life is history. But his Nevada 3A strikeout record led to a more challenging existence as a pitcher at Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz., where hitters are more capable and the stakes higher.
Murphy talked about the differences between high school and college ball Tuesday night via cell phone from a Wendy’s restaurant in Phoenix, after a doubleheader against South Mountain Community College.
“It’s a lot tougher than in high school,” Murphy said about pitching in one of the top junior college conferences in the country. “In the 3A division, you can make mistakes and still get away with it. Here, you’ve got to hit your spots, and if you don’t, you pay the price.”
After a bit of a rocky start this season while working out of the bullpen, Murphy is beginning to find those spots, and is regaining the familiarity of sitting batters down. He credits his recent success to the opportunity to start games, instead of relieving.
“I can’t really pitch when I’m a reliever,” he said.
Murphy proved worthy of joining the starting rotation a couple weeks ago when he was granted a start in a tournament, and threw a complete game, three-hit shutout.
“Coach has been giving me starts ever since,” he said.
Yavapai’s pitching coach, Jeff Caster, said Murphy has made noticeable progress since arriving.
“He has improved greatly,” Caster said. “He came in pretty polished, though. He clearly got good coaching up there in Truckee. But now the difference is that he’s really going after hitters. I think he’s gained confidence.”
Murphy picked up another win in his second start by pitching four innings and allowing two hits and no runs. In his third start, on Tuesday, he went six innings, gave up five hits, one earned run and got a no decision.
His record is 2-0, with one save, a 2.12 earned run average and 24 strikeouts in 23 innings. The team ” the Roughriders ” is 30-8 overall and is tied for first place in league, with a 16-4 record, and 18 games remaining.
Murphy’s short-term goal is for the Roughriders to make playoffs, then win their way to the junior college world series. Caster said that goal is attainable each year, and that Yavapai is due, having last won title in 1993.
Murphy said his long-term goal is to pitch for two years at Yavapai and transfer to University of Arizona.
Signing a professional contract, if that option becomes available, is a possibility after next season. “It depends on the money, basically,” Murphy said.
Truckee High baseball coach Mike Ellis believes in his former ace, and in the decision he’ll make regarding his baseball future.
“Scouts are looking at him all the time now,” said Ellis, who still talks to Murphy on the phone a couple times a week. “The ball is in his court, and he can call his own shots.”
Since arriving in Prescott, Murphy has gained 20 pounds and some extra zip on his fastball. The 6-foot-3-inch right-hander now weighs 205 pounds, and is throwing in the high 80s ” compared to low- to mid-80s in high school ” while “touching 90 every now and then,” he said.
Murphy said his thicker frame and added velocity is most likely a direct result of the weight-lifting program three days a week.
Caster said a combination of things has led to Murphy’s solid outings of late.
“J.R. is mechanically sound,” Caster said. “His stuff is outstanding ” second to none. Now, his confidence is where it should be, his velocity has improved and I think he’s gained competitiveness.”
Murphy’s best pitch, in Caster’s opinion, is his “well-located fastball.”
Ellis thinks Murphy’s most effective pitch could be any one of his main three ” fastball, changup, slider ” on any given day.
“He’s got an overpowering fastball and a good slider,” Ellis said of Murphy’s repertoire of pitches. “If his slider is going, he’s lights out. He keeps [hitters] off balance with a wicked slider. And if he gets his changup going, look out.”