Daniel Murphy hit two home runs against the Mets on Wednesday night, one a solo shot in the second inning and the next a two-run bomb in the eighth. The first he drove to the second deck in right field and the second he pushed into the home bullpen.
Neither were on well-balanced and traditional home run swings. Murphy's first homer came with his weight shifted to his backside and the second was driven primarily by his lead right arm. On that one his back left leg bent down as he reached for a low Sean Gilmartin changeup and drove it over the fence as he essentially took a knee at home plate.
Manager Dusty Baker said afterwards that both homers spoke to a skill Murphy has that many others do not.
"He’s learned how to use his legs. He uses his legs as a hitter probably better than any hitter in this league," Baker said.
Driving balls with power from his legs has been a big point of emphasis for Murphy and has helped him unlock a late career power surge. After setting a career-high with 14 homers in 2015, the Nats second baseman tied that total on Wednesday night with his 14th bomb of 2016 in just the 79th game of the year. He's on pace to shatter his career-best and possibly reach 25 or even 30 by season's end.
"What I've learned is your legs will put you in a good position to hit. So on that last one I was just trying to get my foot down early and get a good pitch to hit. My legs kind of saved me on that one," Murphy explained.
"It's something I worked on a lot last year and carried over to this year. Your legs can save you if you get yourself in a bad position. I didn't exactly hammer that changeup that Gilmartin threw to me. It was actually a pretty good pitch down and in, but my legs kind of saved me."
Murphy avoids specifics when discussing his home run increase, or when asked to talk about himself in general. As for tying his career-high, he had few answers.
"I don't know. They just keep going over the fence," he said.
Baker did the talking for him.
“He’s learned how to hit the ball out of the ballpark, which is indicative of how he was hitting the ball out of the ballpark in the playoffs," Baker said of Murphy's seven homers in 14 games last October with the Mets.
"Like I’ve always said, I’ll take an opposite field hitter and teach him in time – or he’ll learn in time – how to pull the ball and how to hit the ball out of the ballpark, how to sit on pitches and look for pitches, versus taking a pull hitter and trying to teach him to go away. Murphy’s bread and butter is up the middle and the other way. He can do that almost any time he is ready because that was his stroke for so long. He’s learned how to hit the ball out of the ballpark."
Whatever the reason, the Nationals will take it. And they have to be especially pleased with what he's done against his former team. Murphy's two homers on Wednesday gave him four in just 35 at-bats this season off the Mets.