Two consecutive at-bats last week provided Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray with one of his best tests in center field this spring.
Baylor had the bases loaded, threatening OU’s lead, and two fly balls were hit to Murray for the fifth inning’s final outs.
On the first, he kept a runner at third base solely because of his arm. Murray — widely known as potentially OU’s next starting quarterback — whizzed a throw into home plate, just as Baylor third-base coach Mike Taylor decided a scoring attempt wasn’t worth the risk.
“That was the first actual time [his arm had been tested],” he said. “It was a pretty good throw, I guess.”
Murray squeezed the final out off two feet, after tracking down a line drive at the wall with his speed, one of his best-known traits.
Whether it’s defense or base-running, the OU redshirt sophomore — who’s hitting .293 and tied with a team-high three home runs — is displaying other intangibles that make a difference.
His latest chance to show them is 6:30 p.m. Friday, when the 25th-ranked and Big 12 first-place Sooners (21-10, 6-0 Big 12) play at TCU (14-11, 3-3) to begin a key series roughly 50 miles from Murray’s hometown of Allen, Texas.
It will be one of his busier weekends. Murray is expected to fly back to Norman after Game 1 for OU’s football scrimmage Saturday morning, then return to Fort Worth for Games 2 and 3.
His outfield plays against Baylor — two catches and a throw — may seem routine, but are worth noting in Murray’s timeline.
After playing infield in high school, he spent nearly two seasons away from baseball until getting reacquainted a year ago, when he was moved to outfield. A stint in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer paid dividends, and he returned to OU a more well-rounded player.
Murray has learned the nooks and crannies of L. Dale Mitchell Park’s outfield, he says, and absorbed tweaks to his plate approach, which OU coach Skip Johnson credits to assistants Clay Overcash and Clay Van Hook.
Murray obviously knows the base paths well.
Though he was thrown out at third base Tuesday at ORU — a close play that “definitely lit a fire under me,” he said — Murray’s speed is easily weaponized on offense.
Sooner batters generally receive more fastballs when Murray is on base, in an attempt limit his stealing threat. He is 5 for 7 on attempts this season and his presence relaxes hitters, catcher Brady Lindsly said, because simple base hits can score him.
On March 27 against Oklahoma State, Murray stood on first base when teammate Brylie Ware delivered a shallow single to center field. The ballpark was a chilly 5o degrees, with an 11-mph northerly breeze, and Murray admitted he wasn’t in a running mood.
Still, when the play ended, he was standing safely at third base — a near impossible feat for most players, but not the one whom former OU coach Pete Hughes called “the fastest player in college baseball” last season.
Murray enjoys those opportunities, when he can open up a sprint.
“There’s definitely times when you want the guy up next to hit one up the gap,” he said. “It’s fun to run.”
For those in OU’s dugout, it’s been fun to watch.
Tuesday, Murray produced one of his more clutch hits this year, a two-run triple that extended a one-run lead against ORU in the top of the ninth.
Another intangible in his belt? Murray’s college football experience minimizes big moments, Johnson believes.
“That guy’s played in front of hundreds of thousands of people. … It’s just gonna be another moment,” Johnson said. “He’s used to that.”