David Murphy ready to start after solid 2012

MESQUITE, Texas – For the first time since David Murphy joined the Texas Rangers in the second half of the 2007 season, he’s in line to claim the starting left field job.

The 31-year-old is not taking anything for granted.

“I’d like to think I have a lock on the job and last year was obviously a good year, but I’m continuing wanting to build on what I’ve done,” said Murphy, prior to the first Texas Rangers Winter Caravan of the offseason at Academy Sports & Outdoors in Mesquite on Wednesday night.

Murphy hit .304, the best average of his career over a full season. He had 15 homers and 61 RBIs and had an .859 OPS in 147 games. He had a career-high 457 at-bats.

Every season, it seems, questions pop up about whether Murphy will be able to get enough at-bats. And he plays well enough – or injuries play a factor – that he ends up logging plenty of time. But that’s been in a bench role as the fourth outfielder. Now, with Josh Hamilton gone and no additions currently to the outfield, Murphy is in line to start in left field with Leonys Martin or Craig Gentry platooning in center field and Nelson Cruz in right.

Of course, the club continues to look at ways to improve the team for 2013, including the outfield. Michael Bourn is still on the market and Justin Upton’s name still comes up in trade rumors. The Washington Nationals could even look to deal Michael Morse.

“I know the front office is doing everything they can to make this team better,” Murphy said. “They’ve obviously made a few moves, but our lineup is pretty good where it stands right now. I don’t think there’s any reason to speculate.

“There’s been talk about that (Upton) for a long time and it hasn’t happened yet. He’s a great player. He can definitely help our team. But who knows whether or not a deal will get done.”

Murphy had two major goals at spring training last year: Hit left-handed pitchers with more consistency and play better defense.

“I am happy with the way I did each of those things last year,” Murphy said. “But if I get content, then I’m going to take a step back. The key is to maintain the focus I had last year, take that into this year and improve even more.”

Murphy made one error all season and had the best zone rating of his career in left field. And he devoured left-handed pitching. The left-handed hitter batted .347 in 75 at-bats against lefties. In his previous big league seasons, he hit .253 against left-handed pitching.

“I think I’ve proven that I can be an asset against right-handed pitching,” Murphy said. “Over the small sample size I had against lefties last year, I took a step forward. I’d like to prove that I can do it over an even bigger sample size. That’s the big key for me.

“I think the defensive side of it, I knew what I was capable of. I had done it before, but struggled to do it at the major league level. I think I answered some questions last year. Performance against lefties, that’s something I need to buckle down on and prove I can be consistent and that last year was no fluke.”

Murphy said he isn’t surprised the lineup has gone through some alterations since the end of last season.

“I think the way that things ended toward the end of the year last year, this is a perfect time to shake things up,” Murphy said. “It’s going to be different walking into spring training this year and seeing a lot of guys that I was used to seeing on a daily basis not there, but you move on and we’re still going to be a great team. It’s going to be fun to watch this year.”

Murphy, a Houston native, is particularly excited about the addition of Lance Berkman. The two players share the same agent.

“He had some injuries last year, but if he’s healthy, he’s going to perform,” Murphy said. “The first thing I thought of when we signed him was, ‘This is going to be Vladimir Guerrero 2010 all over again.’ I think he’s capable of having that type of year for us. He’s going to hit right in the idle of our lineup and be a big contributor for us.”