John Murphy was forced to watch the Maryland baseball team's first two road series from College Park. The right-hander struggled during his freshman campaign, posting a 9.82 ERA, and had difficulty throwing strikes during winter practices.
As a result, coach John Szefc and assistant coach Ryan Fecteau didn't include Murphy on the group's 27-man travel roster. The Merchantville, New Jersey, native watched the Terps lose two of three in the Clearwater Tournament to begin the season but had aspirations to join the group before its three-game road series against LSU.
Days before the Terps departed, he learned he wouldn't be traveling with his teammates. In the middle of the series against the Tigers, Murphy's parents insisted he remain confident, citing his contributions to Gloucester Catholic High School's two state championships during his four-year stint.
Murphy accepted the advice and has responded, emerging as one of Fecteau's most consistent pitchers. As the Terps prepare for their final regular season series against High Point beginning Thursday night, Murphy's 1.27 ERA is the lowest among Maryland pitchers who have logged more than an inning.
"He's going from not traveling to being one of the main guys out of the bullpen now," right-hander Ryan Selmer said. "That takes a lot of character. A lot of guys might feel sorry for themselves and let it get to their head. Murphy has stayed really professional throughout."
When Fecteau, in his first year on Szefc's staff, was reviewing Maryland's pitching staff, he looked beyond Murphy's 2016 ERA. He noticed at his best, Murphy induces weak contact and his breaking ball has "some depth." However, Fecteau didn't see much improvement as the spring approached.
The Terps were unsure what Murphy's role would be, and their early schedule enabled Fecteau to organize the ways he wanted to use each pitcher. Maryland didn't play a midweek game through the first three weeks, limiting the opportunities for non-starters.
Before the USA-Baseball Irish Classic in the third week of the season, though, Fecteau noticed Murphy improved his command. He joined the Terps in Cary, North Carolina, but didn't make an appearance.
In his first outing against Bryant on March 12, Murphy allowed just a hit in two innings. Over his first four appearances, he allowed two runs and struck out four.
"I have a much different mentality [than last year]," Murphy said. "My stuff is a lot better. My stuff is good enough where if I make my pitch, I can get anyone out."
Right-hander Hunter Parsons' struggles left the Terps without a consistent midweek starter, so Fecteau gave Murphy a chance to start against Richmond on April 4. He gave up four hits and five runs, two of which were earned, over 1.2 innings.
A week later, Murphy surrendered a run in an outing against West Virginia. However, in 12 innings since that April 11 appearance, he's allowed one run.
"[His mentality] is really consistent," Fecteau said. "It's not a guy that gets too high or too low. I know what I'm getting when he goes on the mound. It's going to be a good effort, at least."
While Murphy's fastball velocity and command have impressed Fecteau, he's still refining his changeup and cutter. But he's been reliable in middle and late relief situations.
In the Terps' 6-2 win against UMBC on May 9, Murphy earned his first career save. Sunday, he pitched a scoreless 11th inning in Maryland's 6-5 loss to Northwestern.
Recently, he's noticed the tone of his conversations with his parents have changed.
"My dad told me, 'Look how it's turned out for you, just keeping your confidence up,'" Murphy said. "…It was pretty tough when I found out I wasn't traveling to LSU. I didn't let it just sink in with me and [allow it to] make me go crazy because it would have. I let my parents help me a lot and tried to keep my confidence up."