PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - Murphy is the adorable golden retriever puppy Andy Sonnanstine brought to the Sallie House in December. All hair and energy, that Murphy. Go ahead, rub his neck. Scratch his back.
Who's a good puppy?
The kids at the St. Petersburg children's shelter loved the sneakers they received from Rays manager Joe Maddon that afternoon almost as much as they loved playing with Murphy.
"He's a good dog," Sonnanstine said.
Sonnanstine is the Rays pitcher who won 13 games in the American League championship summer of 2008, then lost his spot on the team last June after a 6-7 start and a major league-high 6.61 ERA.
How did Sonnanstine react? He got a dog and then he got to work.
Maddon said Sonnanstine had the best offseason of any Ray who spent the winter in the Tampa Bay area. He never missed a workout at Tropicana Field, arriving every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to lift weights, condition and throw.
"I busted my tail every single day so I'm not leaving anything up to chance," Sonnanstine said. "I didn't want to go to bed at night thinking, 'Did I do everything that I could?' And I was sleeping pretty easy."
Sonnanstine's name seldom comes up when the talk is of the Rays rotation. Or the bullpen. Yet the 27-year-old is not quite ready to give up his locker at Tropicana Field.
"Sometimes you're going to have a bad year," Sonnanstine said. "(2009) was the first year in maybe a decade where I had a bad year. That was a tough one to swallow. I want to make sure I did everything in my power to not let that happen this year. That was definitely one of the drivers for me to really commit and bust my tail every single workout."
He struggled with his location last season, leaving too many pitches over the plate. He also had trouble getting out right-handed batters. Maddon said they have ideas to correct both areas.
"Right now, I just want him to compete for the last starting job and the last bullpen job," Maddon said. "He's eligible for both."
How Sonnanstine remained on the Rays' radar had a lot to do with the past four months. He incorporated kick boxing and yoga into his offseason routine. He said his body feels balanced and he feels better this spring than any other spring.
Sonnanstine said he owes some of that to Murphy, the puppy he got in November.
"(Murphy) gave me a little bit of structure," Sonnanstine said. "In the offseason after we went to the World Series, if I slept in 'til 2, 3 in the afternoon, it didn't really matter. Now, having a puppy who has to go to the potty in the morning, it's getting me up at 7 or 8, you know. I think that was a big helping point, pushing me to be healthier, start committing to working out, getting in shape, treating my body as a temple."
Starting pitcher or reliever, it doesn't matter. Sonnanstine just wants a job with the Rays.
"That's my No. 1 goal," he said. "Be it as a starter, a reliever or a second baseman."