Dale Murphy, apparently on the downside of his career when he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies last August, became a disciple of the team's fitness guru during the winter.
After several months of strenuous workouts with Gus Hoefling, Murphy reported to spring training in perhaps the best shape of his career. Despite the fitness of his body, however, Murphy's bat was slow to make its presence known once the season started.In his first 15 games of the year, Murphy managed only 10 hits in 50 at-bats, a measly .200 average, and his only two home runs came on consecutive days at Wrigley Field, when the wind was blowing out.
It figures, then, that Murphy might wonder if all his hard work was worth it.
"Well, you work out to prevent injuries and to reduce your recovery time when you do get injured," he said. "And you do it to improve your performance. You work out for a lot of reasons. And even if you're not hitting the ball, being in good shape will help your performance in other areas.
"You don't work out just to get some hits. When I'm not getting any hits, I don't think, `Well, I'm not hitting, so I really didn't have to work out.' "
What a winter of working out could not accomplish, however, a slight change in his batting stance could.
When Jim Fregosi took over as manager April 23 for the fired Nick Leyva, he suggested that hitting instructor Denis Menke tinker with Murphy's stance, making it a little more closed.
The result was 13 hits in Murphy's 28 at-bats, a .464 clip, including a pair of home runs.
"I'm always working on a few things," said Murphy, a 13-year major-league veteran. "I listen to Denis. He has some good suggestions and we work on a few things. My stance was a little open in spring training, now it's a little closed. We're trying to find something that works and it's helped a little bit.
"You've got to make some adjustments if things aren't working like you'd want them to work."
When the Phillies acquired Murphy from the Atlanta Braves, they figured he could replace the retired Mike Schmidt as their cleanup hitter for at least a couple of more years, and awarded him a two-year contract extension worth $2.5 million a season.
But Murphy's statistics had declined from 1987, when he hit .295 with 44 home runs and 105 RBIs, to 1989, when he batted .228 with 20 homers and 84 RBIs. The trade to Philadelphia seemed to revive his bat somewhat, as he finished the season with a .245 average, 24 homers and 83 RBI.
This spring, his bat speed seemed to have declined and he looked overmatched against some hard-throwing right-handed pitchers.
Fregosi, however, is not worried about Murphy.
"He's swinging the bat," Fregosi said.