CHICAGO -- Donnie Murphy is on a roll, and it's one that few -- including a former teammate -- can match.
The utility man has forged his way into the everyday lineup with a power display -- seven home runs since Aug. 6 -- that no one in the National League can match. The only other player in baseball with more homers in that span is Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (eight). Murphy's total is second most in baseball, tied with Alfonso Soriano, who was traded to the Yankees on July 26.
"It's been one big bright spot the last couple weeks since he's been here," manager Dale Sveum said. "That goes unsaid, [home runs are] how we score runs, and he's been a big part of winning some games for us and giving us leads and getting us back in games with some home runs. It's huge, putting a guy in the lineup that was really kind of here to be more of a utility player, and then he just played himself into playing every day."
Third base has been a position in flux this season -- the injured Luis Valbuena has gotten the bulk of the playing time, with Cody Ransom helping out after Ian Stewart's tenure with the Cubs didn't pan out. It's given Murphy a chance after he was released by the Brewers in late March.
With four doubles in addition to the seven homers in that time, Murphy's .891 slugging percentage led the Majors entering Wednesday. His seven homers came in a span of 46 at-bats (one every 6.6 at-bats). He had previously hit 18 big league homers in 579 at-bats (one every 32.2 at-bats).
"Fifty percent of me is [surprised], fifty percent of me isn't," Murphy said. "I know I'm capable of driving some balls out sometimes. But I've been getting some good pitches to hit and just putting good swings on them. I'll take what I can get."
Rizzo moves to two-hole, while Castro leads off
CHICAGO -- Another day, another Cubs lineup experiment.
A day after shortstop Starlin Castro was in the No. 8 spot for the first time this season, first baseman Anthony Rizzo was moved to No. 2 on Wednesday, while Castro batted leadoff. It's the only place in the lineup Rizzo has never hit. Rizzo responded by belting a solo homer in his first at-bat against the Nationals.
"Just kind of putting him somewhere that he doesn't even have to think about being 'the guy' or whatever," manager Dale Sveum said. "You can put him in the two-hole and make sure he gets up in the first inning ... taking a little pressure off him as far as feeling like he's got to be the guy in the third-hole or fourth-hole or fifth-hole."
Rizzo has been abysmal hitting with runners in scoring position. For his career, he's a .214 hitter in such situations entering Wednesday, but after going 0-for-3 with men in scoring position on Tuesday, his average this year dropped to .173. He's hit just .141 overall this month.
Castro's struggles have been across the board. Entering Wednesday, he's a career .285 hitter who's batted just .240 this year in his least productive season since he debuted in 2010. In each of his previous three seasons, Castro hit at least .283.
"It's good for me," Castro said about the lineup switch, adding it gives him a confidence boost and he expects to be more aggressive. "I feel good batting first. I like batting first. When I had my year with 200 hits, that's what I hit."
Sveum has given him a chance to sort things out in every spot in the lineup but cleanup and ninth, though second (79 games) has been his most regular landing spot.
"[We're] trying to get through these next five weeks getting him and Rizzo feeling good going into the winter, and I think of all places … I think this is one spot that he's flourished in, that he kind of can use to so called get his swagger back and see if that can get things going, too," Sveum said.
Castro and Rizzo were on the field taking early batting practice on Wednesday, hitting fastballs from a machine fed by hitting coach James Rowson. Rizzo also took a few steps ahead of home plate toward the mound, he said, to focus more on reacting quicker to pitches.
"The machine's hard to hit off, so you really have to focus on seeing the ball," Rizzo said. "If you hit it well, you know your swing's right and if you're missing a lot, it's probably off a little bit."
Rizzo added: "I told Castro if he gets on first, I'm going to bunt him over. So we'll see if I hold true to that."
• Participants in the Under Armour High School All-America Game, which will take place on Saturday at Wrigley Field, were on the field for batting practice on Wednesday night. The 36-man roster for the sixth annual event includes one Chicago player -- Simeon Career Academy's Darius Day, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound outfielder who is set to graduate next year.
The game will be broadcast live on MLB Network on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. CT.
• Sveum said it can be a difficult process for players like Castro and Rizzo to be the focal point, particularly when they and the team are struggling.
"When you come to the big leagues and right away you get 200 hits, obviously you become a focal point right away. And you play in a big market for the Chicago Cubs, and obviously Rizzo was the same. Even before he got here, the hype was big because obviously the numbers he was putting up," Sveum said. "Like I told Rizzo today, 'Unfortunately or fortunately, it's part of the gig.' One thing you don't want to have happen is not being the focal point, because that means something's fizzled away or something like that."
• Even with him leading off, Sveum said Castro is most likely most suitable for the No. 2 or Nos. 6-7 spots in the lineup.