The speculation was everywhere. The Diamondbacks were going to move two of the most popular, and best players on their team, Randy Johnson and Steve Finley. The questions were everywhere, and the biggest one was of course, what would they get for them? Randy never did go, but when Finley went to the Dodgers everyone wanted to know, 'What did we get in return?' Catcher Koyie Hill has already given us a taste, going 4-4 yesterday for the Diamondbacks and establishing himself as the starting catching immediately upon arrival in Phoenix. But many say the real gem in the deal for the D'Backs was LHP Billy Murphy.
Murphy reported to the AA (Texas League) El Paso Diablos and got his first start on Friday, going 5+ innings and getting the win. According to Diablos broadcaster Mike Lindskog he make only one mistake, giving up a three run homer, but had good command as he struck out five and walked only one against a high powered Midland (Oakland's organization) offense. Diablos manager Scott Coolbaugh says Murphy, "Really has a great baseball mentality. He's got a good idea of what he wants to do when he's out there, he's really in the game mentally. His work ethic is fantastic, he coaches first base for us when he's not pitching, and he's fun to be around, which is refreshing for a youngster. His comfort level is really good after only being with the team a week."
Murphy joins Clint Goocher and Matt Chico in El Paso, giving the Diamondback organization three strong lefty prospects in the same clubhouse, but Coolbaugh thinks Murphy might be a little ahead of the other two. "He's had quite a few more pro innings than Clint or Matt, especially at this level, and he's really a boost for the organization as a whole. Most of the starters we've had come up have been righties, and now we've got all three of these guys from the left side."
A low nineties fastball, and above average curve and a changeup that Murphy has been working on since his drafting by the Oakland A's make up Murphy's arsenal, and according to Coolbaugh, when his command gets more consistent, he'll be ready for the majors, "You don't pitch in the Futures Game [Murphy played along side Conor Jackson for the US team in this year's game in Houston] unless you have big league stuff, and as soon as he learns to throw his curveball for strikes more consistently he'll be ready to make the jump," Coolbaugh said on his way to the park Monday afternoon.
I had a chance to talk to Murphy as he was finishing lunch on Monday. Well spoken and mild mannered, he seemed as excited to be with the Diamondbacks as the Diamondbacks are excited to have him. He wants to pitch, wants the ball, wants to be in the game. He's realistic, but driven, excited and grounded at the same time. He's everything you want in a starting pitcher, for now he's a Diablos, but many think he'll be wearing a different 'D' on his uniform come next season.
Congrats on your first win, it had to be nice to get that out of the way on your first start with the new team and new organization.
It felt good and against Midland [AA affiliate of Oakland], I got to go against a bunch of my buddies who I came up with.
Last weekend was a busy one for you. Where were you on July 30th, when you found out you'd been traded to the Dodgers?
I was in the clubhouse, and we were all watching TV. [ESPN's] Peter Gammons said I got traded, and I didn't hear anything for six or seven hours afterward until right around midnight and that's when I found out I got traded to the Dodgers. It was weird because usually I coach 1st base when I'm not pitching, so obviously I couldn't do that and I was kind of in shock the whole game.
Did you know then that you were probably going to get moved again to the Diamondbacks?
No, the Dodgers called me and I didn't know what was going on and the Dodgers said, "Welcome to the Dodgers." Then they told me to sit tight for awhile, so I sorta knew something was going on but I really didn't know where I was going.
Where were you when you found out about the D'Backs deal?
We were leaving to go back to North Carolina, and I knew I got traded to the Dodgers, but I didn't know what was next. So I got home and obviously couldn't go to the park the next day so I was at home sitting on the couch. I actually heard about the Diamondbacks deal through the grapevine, from buddies of mine from back in Florida.
Most have said that you, and not Koyie Hill or Reggie Abercrombie, was the key component in the trade between the Dodgers and D'Backs. Does that put added pressure on you?
I think its a good opportunity. I like it, a team thinks highly of you and it feels good. It is some pressure, but you just have to go out and compete and play.
To Diamondback fans wondering what we got for Steve Finley and Brent Mayne, describe yourself as a pitcher.
I'm just a hard nosed competitor. Love the game. I just want to go out there every time and keep the game close. The Oakland organization really helped me develop the changeup. I used to be a fastball/curveball pitcher when I got drafted and Oakland really stresses the changeup, that's a pitch they make everybody get. When I got traded to the Marlins it was similar, they really want everyone to be fastball/changeup also, so its a pitch I've worked on a lot and it starting to become a good one for me.
You were almost involved in one of those 'blockbuster' deals, but ultimately Randy Johnson stayed in AZ. Would it have been more pressure if you had been moved for Randy, or would that just have been more incentive for you to do well?
That would have been weird. He's a future Hall of Famer and I've been watching him since he's was in Seattle. A future Hall of Famer for a minor leaguer whose only been around for two years just seems weird to me and it would have been a lot of pressure, but it really doesn't matter in the end, you've still got to go out and pitch and work hard and do your job.
The Diamondbacks not trading Randy Johnson is probably a double edged sword. If Randy is moved it certainly increases your chances of being in the big leagues faster, but now that he's stayed do you think Johnson could be something of a mentor to you?
I think, if it happens that I am there next year, he can help me a lot. Early in his career he had some of the same control problems I have now. Now he's one of the career strikeout leaders and he throws a ton of strikes. He can help me out throwing strikes and help me on how to pitch to different hitters, and just the way he approaches the game. It's always good when there are veterans around because they can help out young pitchers a lot.
The Diamondbacks have had quite a bit of success in developing major league position players, you are seeing that with Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Jesus Cota and some of the other guys, but they haven't had as much success with pitchers. As soon as the trade was done you were considered one of the top three pitching prospects in the Diamondbacks organization. Some people look at the Diablos and think that this is a lot like what the Diamondbacks will look like in 2006 or 2007. Are you guys ready to be the keys in the rebuilding process of Arizona?
I couldn't really answer for the other guys, but watching Carlos, Conner and Cota is really exciting. Carlos and Connor are still in their first year of pro ball and they just attack AA pitching like its nothing. They are swinging the bat so well, its fun to watch. [Diablos pitching coach Mel Stottlemeyer Jr.] has helped me out a lot right away, and has me working on a lot of the same things the Marlins had me working on. I just want to help out the the Diablos right away and the Diamondbacks someday. I'm glad these guys are my teammates because they just hit the ball so well and are so talented its a little overwhelming.
Walk me through your pre-start routine.
I get to the park early everyday, even when I'm pitching. Sitting at home I feel kinda lazy. So I get to the park, just relax and watch TV with the guys. Then I get in the shower, get a rubdown, then about 35 min before game time I go out to the field and stretch. Then I get in the bullpen and warm up, and that's pretty much it.
I've heard you have superstitions, what are they?
Writing in the chalk. It's not really a superstition, but its something I started doing my first year in pro ball. My first full season in Oakland, I had a good pre-season, but then I started to struggle a little bit. One of the coaches in Oakland just told me, "Once you cross the lines leave the last inning behind and focus on the next one." So I just started to write whatever I was thinking as I was walking off the field in the chalk, so that when I crossed the line it was gone, and I guess I just kept doing it.
Got your first start, and first win Friday? It was a solid line, how do you rate your game Friday?
I thought it was good. I missed a start on the 30th, so I had 11 straight days off, and I've really only had two starts in the second half. So it was a long layoff, but I was around the strike zone, that's big for me, I need to throw strikes, so I was pretty happy under the circumstances.
What was it like playing in Minute Maid Park at the Futures Game, was it your first time in a big league park?
It wasn't my first time in a big league park. I pitched at Anaheim Stadium in the 1A high school championship game my senior year, but I still felt like a little kid at Disneyland. I was just trying to have fun, hang out with the guys, find new friends. I got to hang out with Connor [Jackson]. I used to be teammates with John Baker and Trevor Hutchinson, and those guys went to high school with Connor so they introduced me to him and we got to hang out some.
Where do you see yourself at the beginning of next season?
I can't really say, only time will tell. I've got to work, because if I don't work even if I am with the big club next year it won't go well. So I've got to go into the off season and learn. Hopefully I'll be able to work with some guys during the off season, but I'll also watch the [major league] guys in October and try to learn from them. Control is my biggest thing, so I'll go into this off season trying to work on throwing strikes.
There are some that speculate the rotation in Arizona next year would be Johnson, Brandon Webb, Casey Fossum, you, and Edgar Gonzalez. Outside of Randy, that's a very young rotation, would you be comfortable in that rotation?
It's always nice to have veterans there because you can learn a lot from them. But look at the Marlins last year, those young guys all fed off each other. I think you see what one guy did, and you go out and say 'Well, he did this, I want to do it too.' The Marlins rode that all the way to the World Series. Veterans are great because they can help you so much with hitters and just how to approach the game, but young guys sort of band together and feed off one another.
You'll be joining another lefty starter on the fast track in the Diamondback's organization, Matt Chico. You've now gotten to see Chico throw, do you see the two of you moving up together, are you learning from him, is he learning from you?
I think so, we're pretty similar. He throws a slider, but we can definitely learn from each other. I've gotten to see him throw twice now, and he threw great the other day. I hope I help him, that's what I mean when I say we feed off each other, because he will help me, because I'll be learning from him.
Chico seems to have started to turn a corner, he struggled a little when he first moved up to AA, but his last two starts, the starts since you've gotten there, have been really strong. Do you think just your presence there, another young, talented lefty, has sort of helped get him started?
When I made my first start at AA I pitched really well, but then I struggled too. Its all about competing, if you can't compete you shouldn't be playing, and he's a competitor. He's gonna be alright, and I'm not sure how he was doing before, but when I've seen him he's been really good, so I hope I help him, and I hope he helps me, because we are similar, and we should be helping each other, that's why we're teammates.