JR Murphy hit the weight room this winter back home in Bradenton, Fla., with a goal of adding more power to his game. It took about two weeks into the 2013 season for the hard work to pay off.
Murphy muscled out three home runs to set a single-game franchise record in the Double-A Thunder's 15-14 loss at Erie on Thursday night.
"It was my offseason apporoach in the weight room with my trainer. I wanted to hit for some more power, work on those aspects of the game," said Murphy, who had nine homers at two levels last year. "I wouldn't say I'm surprised. This was my goal ... and tonight was a good step toward that."
The Yankees' second-round pick in 2009 out of high school went deep in the fourth, sixth and seveth innings before adding a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the eighth to plate his fifth run of the game. It was the first time a Thunder player has homered three times in a game since the club moved to Trenton in 1994; the previous record was two homers, set most recently by Luke Murton last Aug. 17.
"It was a good day to hit, I wasn't the only one hitting home runs," said Murphy, who hit three of Trenton's six dingers. "This was my first time here. It's a good park to hit at, we got some good pitches to hit, and I didn't miss them. But tonight was a tough one to lose, it was a long game."
Despite 14 runs on 17 hits, two of which were homers by Rob Segedin, Trenton ended up tying the game late before losing on third baseman Segedin's two-out error in the bottom of the eighth that allowed the go-ahead run to score. The teams combined for 29 runs, 34 hits, five errors, two wild pitches and eight home runs in a three-hour, 35-minute game.
"It got off to rough start. Things got out of hand in the first few innings, and then we were able to battle back, put a few on the board," said Murphy, who watched his starter, Matt Tracy, surrender 10 runs in three innings.
Trenton clawed back to tie the game, 14-14, with a five-run eighth, but watched the game slip away in the bottom of the frame when Jamie Johnson scored on the fielding error.
"Slowly but surely, we got back and tied the game," Murphy said. "We didn't take the lead, but it was a close one down to the end. It's a tough one to lose. You're out there for a long time, it's mentally and physically draining."
Murphy, who had just four homers in 43 games last season at Trenton, hit a two-out solo shot to right in the fourth and led off the sixth with a drive to left, both off SeaWolves right-hander Derek Hankins. Murphy struck again in his fourth at-bat, hitting a two-run drive to left off Robbie Weinhardt after Yankees No. 3 prospect Tyler Austin drew a one-out walk.
"The first one, it was 1-0, I got a good pitch and hit it out, a fastball," Murphy said. "The second one, the first pitch was up and in. I thought they'd come back and challenge me with another fastball, and they did, I guessed right."
Murphy's third homer came off Weinhardt, a righty who has spent two stints in the Majors.
"I saw a few of his heaters earlier in the at-bat, they had some good sink to it," he said. "He threw me a slider that didn't look too good, and then threw a heater in. I just reacted to it, hit it well."
Murphy, who went 4-for-5 on the night, said it's been enjoyable so far batting cleanup behind two of the Yankees' top prospects in leadoff man Slade Heathcott (No. 4) and Tyler Austin (No. 3). Heathcott went 0-for-6 with three strikeouts Thursday, but Austin finished with a pair of singles and two runs scored.
"It's fun to be around guys like that every night. You know you'll see someting fun to watch, and so far its been pretty impressive to watch this lineup hit," he said. "It's gonna be tough on other teams to get outs, and tonight was one of those nights."
Trenton fell one homer shy of tying a franchise record for homers in a game. For Murphy, it was his first three-homer night since he was a little kid.
"I think I hit three home runs in a game in Little League," he laughed.
Murphy drove in nine runs with Class A Charleston on Aug. 13, 2010.
James Robbins homered on a five-RBI night and Tyler Collins went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and three runs for the SeaWolves.
Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com.