When the Toronto Blue Jays selected Patrick Murphy in the third round of the 2013 entry draft, 83rd overall, and paid him a $500,000 signing bonus, they knew they were going to have to wait to see him pitch in a game.
They just didn’t think they’d still be waiting in 2016.
For three full baseball seasons, Murphy has been in Dunedin, not pitching.
“I’ve been living at the hotel here and going back and forth between it and the training complex all that time,” says the 20-year-old right-hander from Chandler, Ariz. “I’ve been out here working and rehabbing. It’s pretty frustrating for me.”
No doubt it is for him and no less for the organization, you have to suppose.
Dial the Wayback Machine to 2012. Murphy was then pitching and lighting up the high-school scene in the Phoenix area. Murphy was a junior and it turned out that the spring would be his only varsity season—or at least part of the season.
“There was a single pitch. It was a night game, one of the few we played,” Murphy says. “It was the fourth or fifth inning. I threw a four-seam fastball and I just felt a stretch in my elbow like a rubber band, like a really hard pull. Something that I’d never felt before, and I knew it didn’t feel right.
“I didn’t come out of the game or tell the coaches right then. I stretched my arm a bit and then got a couple of more guys out. At the end of the inning I told my coach that I felt something but I thought I could stay in and deal with it, so I went back out there. It just kept getting more painful and I had to come out an inning or so later.”
Even at that point, Murphy didn’t suspect that he had suffered a serious injury. He went to school the next day and the trainer gave his elbow a good, hard look. His prognosis: tendinitis or a mild strain.
“I took 10 or 12 days off,” Murphy says. “Right up to the last game of the regular season. We had to win it to clinch a playoff spot. It was a big game. I thought my arm was feeling pretty good. I told the coach, ‘I can do this.’ So I warmed up and it felt fine and in the long tossing the same. But then in the bullpen my elbow just locked up on me and the first thing I thought was that it was going to be a long, long day. It turned out to be one of the best games I ever pitched, a complete-game shutout.”
In the days after that game Murphy saw a doctor who pretty quickly determined that Murphy had a torn ligament. At which point along the way that he suffered a tear is a secret that Murphy’s elbow has never shared with him.
Still, even after he had Tommy John surgery that summer and was told that he’d miss his senior season, Murphy imagined that he’d be able to pick up his pitching career with minimum interruption. Though he was on the sidelines, Murphy had made a significant impression on both college recruiters and major-league scouts. He was committed to going to the University of Oregon when the Jays put in a call and convinced him to sign for $150,000 less than his slotted value.
“I knew I wasn’t pitching in 2013 but after I rehabbed that year I was having numbness in my arm and in my hand when I’d throw, more than a year and a half after the TJ [surgery],” he says. “We couldn’t figure out what it was, so I didn’t pitch that year. Then in the middle of the summer we figured out that one of my ribs was pinching a nerve, so I had a rib removed.”
The extreme surgeries didn’t end there, however. Last spring, Murphy was still suffering numbness when he threw, so surgeons removed a nerve from his elbow. Murphy did manage to pitch a handful of innings in instructional league. “I had been waiting so long for a chance to pitch anywhere,” he says. “I doubt many guys looked forward to pitching in the instructional league the way I did.”
Murphy hopes to be a different pitcher than the one who won his last high school game with a torn ligament in his elbow. “I learned a lot about what a professional pitcher has to do by watching what others are doing and listening to the coaches,” he says.
Physiologically he certainly is. Yeah, he’s filled out a bit on his six-foot-four frame, up over 200 pounds now. He’s also minus a torn ligament, a rib and a nerve.
This off-season was the first that Murphy was physically cleared to do full-blown upper-body work. And so far he has been able to throw bullpens. While he’d settle for taking the mound regularly this season anywhere, he’s also hoping for his first change of address.
“I’m hoping they don’t assign me to the [Gulf Coast League] here in Dunedin,” Murphy says. “It’s been a long, frustrating time in Dunedin, just going between the hotel and the training complex. There’s just nothing to do here but hang out with the guys or go to the mall and maybe see a movie or something. Guys I came here with in 2013 have moved up in the organization and I’ve been left behind each spring. I’m just hoping that they assign me somewhere other than here, even [low-A] Bluefield.