SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It's become an annual rite of spring in Surprise to wander over to David Murphy's locker and ask him about playing time, even though he's managed to get plenty of playing time since he's arrived in Texas.
If the questions bother Murphy, he's too kind to show it. But he's also grown into an understanding of his role and what he needs to do to help the Texas Rangers win. And that remains his top priority.
Murphy has gotten the "fourth outfield" label simply because he's never come into camp or the season as a starter. Yet when injuries occur -- and they always do -- he's ready to jump in and play. Murphy has had at least 400 at-bats in each of the past four seasons in Texas, playing in at least 120 games in three of those seasons. To do that this year, without some injuries, would mean the club going with Josh Hamilton in center more against right-handers and playing Murphy in left. That's something that happened at times in 2011 when everyone was healthy.
Murphy doesn't go into any season thinking he's going to get that many at-bats. But he's prepared for whatever happens.
"I have a positive mindset for my teammates," Murphy said. "I know that the last few years I've gotten my 400 at-bats because there's been a lot of injuries and I don't want Nelson [Cruz] to get hurt or Josh to get hurt. If Nelson gets 150 or 160 games, he's an MVP candidate. I don't want him on the bench.
"All the same, there's no reason I need to stress out about anything. Things always seem to happen. I always am able to play some sort of role and that's something that can't be predicted and I guess there's almost no reason to talk about it until the end of the season when it's all said and done and the games and at-bats columns are final."
Manager Ron Washington says having Murphy is a luxury and it gives him the confidence knowing he can alter lineups and find the matchups he wants with Murphy's ability at the plate and in the field. But Murphy felt that his defense wasn't as good as it could have been in 2011 and has arrived at spring training determined to improve it.
"There's been too many balls over the course of last year and the previous years that have been question marks in my mind after the fact and after the play was over," Murphy said. "I'm thinking in my mind, 'Should I have caught that ball?' That used to not be the case with me. I used to be a lot more sure of myself defensively. This is a very great defensive club, so I definitely want to pull my weight in that area.
"It would be one thing if I didn't think I was capable, but I feel like my abilities and the way that I've played the last few years have not coincided. I've played under my ability."
Murphy is working on that with outfield coach Gary Pettis and in drills with his teammates in the morning workouts. He's also busy getting swings in with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh. Murphy's focus is to avoid the longer slumps that have hurt him some in recent seasons. He had a stretch of 30 games early last year where he hit just .190 (19-for-100).
"I need to take those huge slumps out of my season," Murphy said. "The better hitters are more consistent, they have smaller valleys in the course of the season. But I'm confident in my hitting ability. I feel like I'm capable of playing every day, but if I don't play that much, I'm fine. I've come to accept this role. This is a unique group of guys, a group of guys I love. I want to do anything I can for them."