Matt Murton’s recent slump could no longer be tolerated. As he had gone 20 straight at-bats without a hit, team management finally bumped him down in the batting order on the 22nd (against DeNA) to the sixth spot. Batting sixth for the first time since Opening Day 2013, Murton’s 8th inning RBI single in the 8th was his first in 24 plate appearances, but his average has meanwhile spiraled down to a pedestrian .207. He still shows no signs of returning to form.
From this season, he has developed a slight twitch in his left leg as he bats, but he still has not been able to find his timing with the new approach. Manager Wada commented, “His core is not in a ‘power position’ when he bats, and as a result he has not been able to pick up on pitches early enough.”
A former Tiger added, “He used to keep his weight off his right foot and instead make strong contact with the ball, but this year he’s lunging even farther ahead. When your stance has fallen apart that badly, there’s no way you can see the ball well up there.”
The umpires’ slight changes to the strike zone have poured more salt in the already gaping wound. Murton’s sensitivity to umpires’ calls have been the start of a vicious cycle, where he blows up at the umpires, loses his focus and plays with less fighting spirit. This is nothing new. But recent attempts by the league to speed up the game has resulted in umpires broadening the strike zone, causing Murton to be extra sensitive and easily disrupted. Says Wada, “The strike zone has changed a little this season. I can’t say that is the reason for Murton’s slump, but it is definitely to the pitchers’ advantage, so there’s no denying it plays against him.”
Newspaper headlines read, “Murton Benched” but Wada avoided making comments one way or the other.
The team plans to recall 22-year old rookie Taiga Egoshi from the farm (today) but Murton, who has faced a lot of two-seam pitchers (like today’s starter Hiroki Kuroda), so he’ll likely get the start. That, plus the one player the team has been counting on lately, Mauro Gomez, has come down with a fever, so it’s probably best to keep Murton in the lineup at least one more day. Wada did say that this is a “period of patience” for the team.
The reason the Tigers’ management is so hesitant to remove Murton from the starting lineup is his attitude.
Despite all the bashing he has been receiving from fans, who say he has gotten apathetic, he faithfully spends an hour, even two, after games watching video footage, going over the strike zone and what his form looks like. This has made a strong impression on the organization, as it is rather uncommon among foreign athletes. If he were lackadaisical off the field, management would likely bench him immediately. However, his keenness towards improving his game, plus the fact that he is the reigning batting champ, makes it understandable that management can’t easily cut ties with him.
But in the world of sports, results are everything.
The Carp are planning on starting lefty Kris Johnson on the 26th, so it would make sense that management replace Murton with Egoshi, should there be no change in the former’s performance against veteran Kuroda, but…
Obviously we hope Murton’s hard work will be rewarded with good results in (today’s) game. Last season’s lineup, especially cleanup hitters Toritani, Gomez and Murton, fed off each other. Without Murton’s bat, there’ no RBI title for Gomez. Murton’s revival is the key to the team’s success moving forward.