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Mariners' Tom Murphy, Austin Nola
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Mariners like new catching combo of Tom Murphy and Austin Nola — both at and behind the plate

Expect to see Tom Murphy and Austin Nola share the Mariners' catching duties in 2020. (AP)

The one thing the Mariners had going for them in 2019 was the catcher position.

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Omar Narváez and Tom Murphy were baseball’s most formidable catching combination offensively, combining for 40 home runs and 95 RBIs, and the duo was so strong that Austin Nola spent the majority of his time after being called up from Triple-A at first base despite coming up from the minors as a backstop.

The Mariners took that depth and used it to further their rebuild effort, trading Narváez to Milwaukee and hanging onto Murphy and Nola, who may not have produced quite as much offensively as Narváez but certainly have the edge defensively.

Seattle manager Scott Servais, a former MLB catcher himself, noted Thursday at the Mariners’ pre-spring training press conference just how confident the team is in Murphy and Nola taking over the catching duties.

“It will be a good combo. It really will,” Servais said.

Both Murphy and Nola were surprises in 2019, Murphy joining the team between the season-opening series in Japan and Seattle’s home opener in a minor deal and Nola making his MLB debut in June at the age of 29 after a surprisingly strong start to the year in Triple-A.

The development of Murphy, 28, was something Servais was quite impressed to see first-hand.

“Tom Murphy last year made more improvement in one season for a major league player than I’ve ever seen, and that’s a credit to him,” Seavais said. “… Murph bought into us.”

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Murphy hit .273 with 18 homers, 40 RBIs and an .858 OPS, with the majority of his success coming against left-handed pitching – he hit .347 with 11 home runs in 130 plate appearances vs. southpaws, compared to a .211 average and seven homers in 151 plate appearances against righties. Prior to 2019, Murphy had 210 MLB career plate appearances over four seasons with Colorado, hitting .219 with 10 homers, 34 RBIs and a .710 OPS.

“It really came down to Murph being diligent,” Servais said of Murphy’s 2019 breakout. “Probably the most disciplined guy we have on our team. Everything he eats, his workout programs, hitting off the velocity machine on a daily basis – he was gonna make himself a better player and he did. Often times guys will work really hard for a short amount of time, they don’t get the results they want and they bail. He didn’t do that.”

As much as Murphy excelled with the bat, there’s another area of his game Servais was sure to shine a spotlight on.

“I really saw the connection he was able to make with our pitching staff. He puts a ton of homework and time in leading into each series, understanding how to get the best out of our pitchers vs. the lineup that we’re facing. It’s pretty valuable.”

Nola, the older brother of Phillies All-Star pitcher Aaron Nola, was drafted in 2012 by Miami as a shortstop and eventually found his way both to catching and the Mariners’ system. Like Murphy, the now 30 year old seemingly came out of nowhere with his performance in 2019, hitting .269 with 10 home runs, 31 RBIs and a .796 OPS in his first 79 MLB games. The similarities don’t end there, however.

“Austin Nola’s wired very similarly (to Murphy),” Servais said. “To see what Austin did with the bat last year was remarkable. He’s never done that before. I know you guys didn’t seen him catch much (for the Mariners) – he can catch. I have no concerns there at all. The numbers back it up, his hands are good, he throws good, he’s got a good feel with the pitching staff.”

Servais also talked to Danny and Gallant earlier Thursday to discuss his team going into spring training, which you can hear in the player below or in podcast form at this link. He joins the show at the 25:45 mark.

Follow’s Brent Stecker on Twitter.

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