Tom Murphy looking like a two-way threat after perfect mound work for Mariners

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The Mariners' backup catcher flashed a creditable fastball and breaking ball against the Twins. That ought to get the attention of forward-thinking teams that crave versatility.
The Mariners' backup catcher flashed a creditable fastball and breaking ball against the Twins. That ought to get the attention of forward-thinking teams that crave versatility.

Tom Murphy was the only Mariners pitcher to hold the Twins scoreless Saturday night. Tom Murphy is also a catcher. If he isn't careful, he might turn into one of those fancy two-way players MLB teams are trying to develop.

Murphy worked a perfect ninth inning in Seattle's 18-4 loss to Minnesota at T-Mobile Park. Even better, depending on your perspective, he struck out Miguel Sano with an 89 mph fastball and Jason Castro with an 82 mph slurve.

"That's just an old thing I used to throw in high school, but it seemed to work," Murphy said of his breaking ball, per MLB.com.

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The 28-year-old Murphy became the 10th position player to record a strikeout this season, joining Tyler White, Hernan Perez, Jeff Mathis, Luke Maile, Jedd Gyorko, Brandon Dixon, Chris Davis, Charlie Culberson and Aaron Altherr. Murphy's Ks were the first of his pitching career in his second career appearance. His first outing came May 1 against the Cubs, when he allowed two runs.

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Murphy achieved another first Saturday when he entered the game as a left fielder in the eighth inning. That was his first career fielding assignment at somewhere other than catcher. One inning later, he was on the mound.

"It kind of puts things in a little different perspective when you’re out there and not just grinding away behind the plate. So that was cool," Murphy told reporters, per MLB.com.

MLB teams put a record number of position players on the mound last season as they tried to preserve relievers' arms and expand roster versatility. The next big idea, which has been in the works for the past several years, is to develop players who can both play in the field and pitch regularly. Such players may become attractive (and more plentiful) next year when MLB implements a rule change designed to limit the use of position players on the mound. As part of the change, teams can declare players as "two-way" after they reach certain playing time thresholds.

The most notable two-way experiment right now involves Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen, who is playing in the outfield in major league games after showing he can be a power threat at the plate. Lorenzen's case is the opposite of how these projects usually begin. Most times, a position player with a good arm moves to the mound.

That's what the Pirates are doing with outfielder J.B. Shuck, as The Athletic reported Saturday, what the Mets contemplated in spring training with infielder J.D. Davis, what the Rays are doing with minor leaguers Brendan McKay and Jake Cronenworth, what the Reds considered doing after drafting Hunter Greene first overall, and what the White Sox could have done with infielder Matt Davidson last season. Davidson signed a minor league deal with the Rangers in the winter and has been a full-time hitter in Triple-A.

One common thread for Lorenzen, Shuck, Davis, McKay, Cronenworth and Davidson: They were all pitchers in college. They don't need to be taught the position from the ground up. They just need regular work and instruction.

The Padres were at the front of the parade a few years back when they tried unsuccessfully to turn catcher Christian Bethancourt into a two-way player. Bethancourt is now playing in Korea. San Diego this year began converting infielder Javy Guerra into a pitcher, although it seems reasonable to think it will be flexible about putting Guerra at multiple positions.

Lorenzen and Co. may not match the all-around ability of a healthy Shohei Ohtani, but they are making themselves more valuable to MLB teams — especially if they can be as effective as Murphy was Saturday.

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