Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tim Murphy Interview

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed Rangers pitching prospect Tim Murphy. Tim began his pro career in 2008 after being drafted by the Rangers. After a successful year, with time spent in both Spokane and Clinton, Tim opened this season in Bakersfield. I spoke with him as he was wrapping up spring training in Arizona.

Me: Do you enjoy hitting or pitching more?

Tim: It’s tough to say. I grew up as a hitter and I consider myself to be an athletic guy. I got drafted out of high school as an outfielder by the Angels and, once I got to UCLA, I didn’t pitch during my freshman year. But it turned out that pitching was going to be my future and that’s where I ended up today. It’s tough to say. They’re two totally different sides of the game and I enjoy doing them both. But realistically, my future’s on the mound so I’m going to stick with that and that’s where I’m at right now.

Me: Do you prefer starting or relieving?

Tim: I’ve had the privilege to do both. At UCLA, I was fortunate enough to be a starter my sophomore year and going into my junior year. But also in midweek games I had the opportunity to close some weeks. They’re totally different mindsets in my opinion and if I had it my way I’d like to stay as a starter. Either way’s fine with me but I’d prefer starting over relieving.

Me: Did you enjoy playing football or baseball more?

Tim: Definitely baseball. I grew up playing all different sports – basketball, soccer, hockey - you name it, I probably played it. Football was fun for me but it was more something to pass time. It was something I enjoyed and I was somewhat successful at it, but baseball was one of the things I’ve played since I was five years old. It’s my true love and I definitely have more of a passion for baseball than I ever had for football or any other sport. It’s stuck with me since and I still love going out there every day and playing the game.

Me: What position did you play in football?

Tim: My freshman year in high school I played quarterback, and then my sophomore year I got called up to varsity and they were looking at me as a quarterback. But we had a couple of older guys who ended up stepping up. I was converted to defensive back and ended up playing safety. I played safety my sophomore and junior year. I also played a little wide receiver my junior year. I ended up giving up football my senior year so I could concentrate on baseball. I felt like that’s where my future was and I really didn’t want to jeopardize anything with an injury or anything like that. I knew baseball was my future and it wasn’t going to be football, so I ended up sticking with baseball and it got me here today so I can’t complain.

Me: What was your reasoning for not signing with the Angels when they drafted you in 2005 as an outfielder out of Rancho Buena Vista High School?

Tim: There were a couple of different reasons. Obviously I had committed to UCLA and I had an opportunity there to go with a pretty successful coach who had a pretty good background with developing players in the past. There were a couple of different situations that went into it. The situation obviously wasn’t right. The Angels had a couple of guys they had to sign before me before they could offer me money, since they had drafted me in the later rounds. It was going to take above slot money to sign me and take me away from my commitment to UCLA. So that was probably one of the main factors, which was that everything didn’t really line up at the time. If it had, I could have been with the Angels today. But the way I look at it is that everything happens for a reason. I couldn’t see myself as a professional hitter. I don’t know if I ever would have made it to the big leagues as a hitter. Pitching’s kind of where everything worked out. Definitely I feel like I can be a successful pitcher and I have the chance to make it to the big leagues and hopefully have a very successful career and a long one as well.

Me: Well I’m glad you’re here and not with the Angels.

Tim: Yeah me too. Actually I’ve been very happy with the Texas Rangers organization. They’ve been really good to me so far and I couldn’t ask for anything more. I could be with other teams that are going to the free agency market but the Rangers are promoting guys from within. There’s definitely an opportunity here for homegrown talent and they’ve proven that with their track record the last few years. I definitely feel with the Rangers that there’s a pretty good opportunity here in front of me.

Me: Which stat means more to you: having the lowest ERA on UCLA, or having the fourth lowest ERA in the whole Pac-10 conference?

Tim: That’s a tough one. Obviously you want to be in a class by yourself as a leader on the field and obviously you want to start with your own team first. That’s what you look at on an individual basis. Individual statistics are good and are something that comes along with team success. Without the team I wouldn’t have had the lowest ERA with UCLA. There’re a lot of things that go into that. But the Pac-10 is a highly touted conference and there are a lot of guys that have come out of that conference and have had successful major league careers. I didn’t even know that I had the fourth lowest ERA until you told me just now. So that’s a tough one but I’d probably go with the Pac-10 on that one because it’s kind of a nice individual honor. But like I said, it goes into the team success as well. Guys have to play behind you with defense and you have to get run support, so it wasn’t all on my own but I guess I did have a little bit to do with it.

Me: So, do you not ever pay attention to your stats?

Tim: There are different stats you look at so you can see where you’re at in the season and what you need to work on. But the stats that are more important to me are ball-to-strike ratios. After a certain outing I’ll go back and look at our pitch chart to see how many first-pitch strikes I threw, how many guys I threw strikes to on the first 2 out of 3 pitches, quality pitches, fly balls, ground balls. Those are the stats I pay more attention to. The other stats are ones that you might look back on at the end of the season and take some pride in but during the season you don’t really focus too much on ERA or strikeouts. Those things kind of just happen but if you take care of the prime ones that people don’t look at so much that don’t show up in the box scores, then the ones that do show up in the box scores take care of themselves.

Me: Was it frustrating for you to go 5-6 even though you had the team’s lowest ERA in 2008?

Tim: Yeah, I guess you could say that. Obviously you’d like to have more wins. You always feel like you could do better. But like I said earlier, the Pac-10 was a difficult conference. I was throwing against people that were just as good or even better than me. It comes with the territory. I tried to go out there every Friday night and give my team a chance to win and sometimes you fall on the short end of the stick. That’s baseball. It’s a really weird game. You never know what’s going to happen. We had guys with higher ERAs who had pretty successful seasons. I guess you could say it’s disappointing, but in the long run it really didn’t matter too much. We ended up making the playoffs and had a pretty good run. We fell a little bit short and didn’t meet our main goal, which was obviously a national championship for UCLA, but you can’t look too far into that in my eyes.

Me: What 2008 accomplishment means more to you: leading the Pac-10 in strikeouts with 111 or being named Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week three times?

Tim: Probably in the long run I’d have to say leading the Pac-10 in strikeouts. It’s a tough one to say, too, because the Pac-10 pitcher of the week honors go with the team. You can go out and throw a shutout, but the team still has to put up that one run and play defense behind you, so I feel like the Pac-10 ones are not so individually based. But definitely the Pac-10 strikeout leader I can look back on 40 to 50 years from now and tell my grandchildren that I led the Pac-10 in strikeouts in 2008. I think that’s something that I’ll cherish a little bit more once my baseball career is over and I look back on things. That’s probably something that I’ll remember forever.

Me: As a pitcher, as the season goes along, would you rather throw more strikeouts or less walks?

Tim: Obviously less walks. At any level of the game, you can’t give away free bases. Once you start giving away free bases, that’s when bad things start to happen. If I had zero strikeouts and zero walks in a game versus seven strikeouts and three walks in a game, I’d take the zero and zero, just for the fact that there are other ways to get a guy out than strikeouts and you can’t strike a guy out on one pitch. Strikeouts can lead to high pitch counts. I’d definitely take the fewer walks than strikeouts.

Me: When your coach at UCLA, John Savage, had you throw 144 pitches in an 8-0 win, what were some of the thoughts that went through your head?

Tim: If I remember correctly, that was against Berkeley, and we were a bubble team going to the playoffs. We weren’t a shoe-in for the playoffs yet, so, if I remember correctly, it was a game up there that we kind of needed to win and it was late in the season. It was the last start of the regular season for me and pitch count by then is individual based. People talk about 100 pitches being the highest that someone can go, but it’s something that Nolan Ryan’s gone into here with the Rangers in that it’s kind of individually based. You have to push your limits, I feel, and some guys are capable of doing that. And if you can, then why not? I think our pitch counts here this year with the Rangers are going to get more stretched out. If I remember correctly, I threw those 144 pitches and then came back the next Friday and had a pretty successful game against Virginia. So it’s all individually based in my opinion. If a guy can handle it then a guy can handle it. It didn’t have any negative effect on me and it was a big game for UCLA to get us into the playoffs. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. It’s one of those things I did for the team. We made it to the regionals and it didn’t have any long-lasting effects on me.

Me: What adjustments did you make between 2007 and 2008 that helped you lower your ERA from 5.68 to 3.34 and lower your opponent’s batting average from .278 to .227?

Tim: 2007 was really my first full year of pitching, especially at a higher level. I pitched a little bit in high school. I was still pretty new to pitching in 2007. I was a guy who had a decent arm that was more of a thrower than a pitcher. I feel like probably the biggest difference between 2007 and 2008 was that I made the transition into a pitcher, refined my command with fastballs, my curveball got a little better, experience, all sorts of stuff contributed to the switch between the two seasons. It was more experience and being out there more and more. Like anything else in life, the more and more you do something the better and better you’ll become at it in my opinion.

Me: In both ’07 and ’08 you allowed more unearned runs than earned runs. What were your first thoughts whenever one of your teammates would make an error behind you?

Tim: Everyone makes mistakes. Physical errors are going to happen. Guys are going to bobble a ground ball or drop a fly ball. It’s the mental errors that will get to you. But if a guy makes an error behind you, that’s going to happen. It’s no different than me leaving an 0-2 pitch over the middle of the plate that wasn’t supposed to be there and the guy hits a home run. You don’t have eight guys behind you bickering at you when you make a mistake on the mound, so if a guy makes an error behind you, you’ve got to go on and pick him up. If anything, you want to get the next ball right back to him. You want to give him another chance. You want him to be able to redeem himself. He feels just as bad. It’s not like he did it intentionally. You need to move on to the next guy, take it one pitch at a time, clear your mind and go to the next pitch - challenge the next guy even more. I never have a negative feeling towards a player when an error happens or anything like that.

Me: Did you notice a big difference when you got to the minor leagues in the defense behind you?

Tim: The biggest difference I noticed from college to professional baseball is that, especially in the lower levels, guys are a little bit more raw. In college, you see guys that are a little more average across the board with everything they do. Once I got to pro ball, you could make some mistakes and get away with them and then make another mistake and the guy hits a 500-foot home run. That’s probably the biggest difference. And then obviously everyone here got drafted for a reason so most of the guys have some tools. You see guys with more ability here in pro ball. They might not be as consistent with their ability yet but that’s part of the minor leagues and developing, as opposed to college where you see more guys with average tools who make the routine plays and not make the spectacular ones. Up here in the minors, you’ll see some guys make some unbelievable plays that you’re awed by and then see them boot or misplay a ball on a play that they should make. That’s probably the biggest difference – it’s a little more up-and-down in the minor leagues and it was a little more even-keeled in college ball.

Me: Who are your three favorite teammates since you joined the Rangers organization and why?

Tim: I’d probably have to say Matt West. He was my roommate in Spokane and he was one of the first guys I met with the Rangers. He had been with the Rangers a year, so he kind of showed me the ropes of professional baseball, some of the little things I didn’t know. He was my roomie so I spent a lot of time with him in Spokane. Another guy would probably be Corey Young. We hit it off. He has some of the same interests as me. He’s from New Jersey but you’d never know it. You’d think he was a California kid. We clicked right away. The third guy would probably be Corey Ragsdale. He’s an older guy. I met him later in the year in Spokane when he got transitioned from shortstop to the mound. When he came down, he kind of gave me a new perspective on baseball. Well, not just in baseball. He’s a more mature guy and we had some heart-to-heart talks. I felt like he helped me grow up a little bit, I guess would be the best way to describe it. I feel I’d have to attribute some of my success in Spokane to him and some of the talks we had and trying to get more out of my ability.

Me: Who are the three toughest hitters you’ve faced and why?

Tim: Probably the toughest guy, and he was left-handed too, was Brett Wallace. He probably has a shot at being in the big leagues this year. He was just one of those guys that I always had trouble with in college. Two other guys? I don’t know. It’s tough to say. I wouldn’t consider myself an average pitcher. I kind of do things a little bit differently. I kind of still have a position player’s mentality. I really don’t remember too much.

Me: Well, that’s a good sign if you can’t think of tough hitters.

Tim: Yeah, I only remember certain things. It’s weird. Like, I’ll remember how to pitch certain guys, or a weakness, or I’ll remember how a guy’s really fast and liable to bunt anytime during a game, or that sort of thing. But hitters-wise, you could say that if a guy has success off of me or I have a bad outing, it’s one of those things where I just want to move on to the next start as soon as possible. You just kind of forget about those negative moments. You take them and learn from them but you don’t dwell on them. That’s the biggest reason why I don’t remember the toughest hitters. Like I said, Brett was my toughest guy.

Me: What is your best pitch and how was it developed?

Tim: I’d have to say that it’s definitely going to have to be my fastball. I live off my fastball. Anyone you ask, a scout or anyone in the organization, the fastball is my number one pitch and I think it should be for every single pitcher. You have to have a fastball and you have to establish it early in the game. If you don’t have a fastball then, in my eyes, you’re going up the creek the wrong way. Probably the thing I’ve developed the most is being able to locate it better and have better command. Going into this year, I’ve been trying to keep the ball down, especially out here in spring training, and it’s something that I’ll carry over into the season. I’ve had pretty good success out here so far in spring training. I’ve been able to refine my command of that and I’ve been able to put it where I want more often.

Me: What’s been the best game so far of your professional career and why?

Tim: I don’t know about best game but the most memorable game came up in Washington. There was a promotion called ‘10 K’s for $10,000’, so if the whole Spokane pitching staff combined had 10 strikeouts in 9 innings, then one of the fans would win $10,000. Matt Matt Nevarez started the game and I think he went around 4 innings with 6 strikeouts, and I came in around the 5th and got one strikeout that inning. By the end of my outing, I had about 2 or 3 innings and I got that 10th strikeout. So, I think in the 7th inning, we had 10 combined strikeouts and we actually won a fan $10,000. So that was probably the most memorable moment just because it was something cool and probably something I’ll never see again.

Me: That must have been fun for the fan.

Tim: Yeah, I’m sure they were pretty happy. I don’t know too many people who wouldn’t take $10,000.

Me: What was your favorite team growing up?

Tim: I grew up in San Diego, so obviously the Padres. It was the Padres and then my favorite player growing up was Steve Finley. He kind of bounced around from team to team, so I followed whatever team he was on pretty closely. But I followed the Padres most as a kid.

Me: I went to Petco Park the year it opened. I guess you’ve been to Petco, right?

Tim: Oh yeah, I’ve been to Petco for many games. My dad’s a firefighter so he goes in every year and gets a season ticket package and splits it with the others. They each get about five games apiece. My parents have had season tickets there for the last four or five years. So I definitely got my fair share of games in. It still looks brand new and it’s probably the most clean stadium I’ve ever been in. It’s a pretty nice place.

Me: It’s much nicer than Jack Murphy.

Tim: Yeah, way better than Qualcomm.

Me: What sports did you play growing up and which were you best at?

Tim: I started playing baseball when I was 5. I played t-ball every year and never skipped a year on that. I played soccer for 2-3 years. I played hockey for a year or a year and a half. I played basketball in middle school for a year. Then it was on to football in high school. I really like football. It was really fun to me. It’s a lot more of an athletic game. You can be a good athlete and you can get away with a lot in that sport, as opposed to baseball where I feel you need to be athletic but there’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes, especially mentally. I feel like I was probably the best at baseball. I’m still playing baseball now so I can’t say I wasn’t the best at baseball.

Me: What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had to deal with?

Tim: Hands-down it was when I broke my jaw my junior year of high school. I got hit by a baseball and broke my jaw in two spots. I think it was 2 or 3 weeks before the season and I had to have it wired shut for six weeks. It was definitely, easily, without a doubt the worst injury I’ve had. I ended up losing 17 pounds from it. I couldn’t eat. The thing I survived on was taking hot pockets and putting them in a blender and adding either chicken or beef broth to liquefy them even more and then I’d suck them down with a straw because I couldn’t chew or move my jaw. It’s something I’ll never forget and hopefully never have to go through again. I hope no one has to go through that actually.

Me: That must have hurt.

Tim: Yeah, it was pretty painful too. The initial contact and injury didn’t hurt. But the surgery and the first week were unbearable. You wanted to rip the wires and metal out of your mouth but it was just something you had to go through.

Me: What are your hobbies?

Tim: I like movies and hanging out with my friends during the offseason. I go to the beach a lot. Those are probably my biggest hobbies. I love the beach. You’ll always find me at the beach during the offseason. I don’t think I’ll ever move from southern California. It’s probably somewhere I’ll always be during the offseason.

Me: Well, that’s all the questions I have. Thank you so much for doing the interview.

Tim: No worries. If you ever have any other questions or ever need anything, just give me a call. It was good hearing from you again.

I would like to thank Tim for taking so much time to talk with me for this interview and wish him the best of luck in Bakersfield this season. We should be seeing him in Frisco soon. I got to meet Tim in January at the Rangers Winter awards ceremony. Tim sat at our table for dinner. I also talked with him a few times in Surprise in March when I was up there for spring training. Tim is a great guy and always very friendly. I really appreciate him taking time out of his schedule for this interview.

Come back next week for numbers 36-40 on my Top 50 All-Time Rangers List.

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