Mariners catcher Tom Murphy (foot) will go on the IL ahead of Friday’s opener. (AP)
The Mariners have received news that is about as bad as it can get for an MLB team just days from starting the season – their starting catcher is headed to the injured list.
Tom Murphy has a metatarsal fracture in his left foot, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto disclosed Wednesday night during the ROOT Sports broadcast of the team’s final intrasquad game of Summer Camp, and he will be placed on the IL Thursday. That leaves the M’s scrambling at the backstop position with opening day set for 6:10 p.m. Friday in Houston.
Murphy had been held out from Summer Camp activities in recent days due to what the team was calling a bruised foot, and on Wednesday morning, manager Scott Servais informed reporters that the team was unsure whether Murphy would be healthy enough to play in that first game. Now it appears Seattle will need a more concrete replacement for Murphy going forward.
That means Austin Nola will be stepping up to catch Mariners starting pitcher Marco Gonzales on Friday against the Astros. The converted shortstop mainly played first base for Seattle in 2019 after his promotion from Triple-A Tacoma but catcher had been his primary position last year in the minors and he made seven appearances behind the plate for the M’s. The Mariners planned for Murphy and Nola to split time at catcher this year, though Murphy would likely get more starts at the position, especially considering Nola’s ability to play all over the field.
“It is a blow and I feel really bad for Murph,” Servais said Wednesday night after the Mariners’ final intrasquad game. “This guy, he works as hard as anybody we have. He comes to the ballpark with a great attitude every day. Unfortunately things happen.”
The Mariners won’t try to rush Murphy back onto the field despite the urgency the 60-game MLB season presents.
“It just wasn’t responding to the treatments, I found out later today that he was probably going to start on the IL,” Servais said. “… It’s kind of a weird thing, Murph said it’s something they’d never seen before. I’m hoping he’s not down too long but I also don’t want him to rush back. I want him to be 100 percent when he gets back but that’s baseball, it throws you a bunch of curves, we’ve got to adjust. Austin will get plenty of time back there, as will (Joe) Hudson.”
Murphy, 29, was a early season acquisition of the Mariners in 2019 and one of the team’s biggest breakout stories of the season. He hit .273 with 18 home runs, a .535 slugging percentage and .858 OPS in 75 games (281 plate appearances). He’s also earned a reputation as a strong defender with a good handle on managing a pitching staff.
Nola, 30, hit .269 with 10 home runs, a .454 slugging percentage and .796 OPS in 79 games (267 plate appearances) in 2019, his first in the majors.
Joe Hudson, who has been in camp with the Mariners but is not currently on the 40-man roster, will be the backup for Nola going forward. The 29 year old has appeared in nine career MLB games over the past two seasons with the Angels and Cardinals.
The Mariners could also look to add a catcher that is cut from another MLB team when rosters for the start of the season are made ahead of a Thursday morning deadline, but the COVID-19 testing needed to clear players to play during the 60-game season will only make matters more complicated.
Uncertainty at catcher ahead of the first game of the season is not something new for the Mariners. A late injury to Mike Zunino ahead of opening day 2018 left Seattle with then-backup Mike Marjama as their only option behind the plate, and Marjama had to fight his way through a minor hand injury suffered during that game.
The Mariners’ opener against the Astros will air on 710 ESPN Seattle beginning with the pregame show at 5 p.m.