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Nats Stock Watch: Daniel Murphy continues his surge at the plate

Nats Stock Watch: Daniel Murphy continues his surge at the plate

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see whose stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 2-5

Team slash: .251/.345/.422

Team ERA: 4.97

Runs per game:  5.42

 

STOCK UP 

Daniel Murphy, 2B: .467 AVG, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1.233 OPS

At what point can we just say that what Murphy is doing at the plate is not a mirage? We're a month-and-a-half into the season, and the veteran second baseman is showing zero signs of slowing down. In the last week alone, he's logged five (!) multi-hit games, including a pair of four-hit efforts. Per Fangraphs, Murphy is making contact on 87.5 percent of the pitches he sees — a team high. Conversely, his 5.4 swing-and-miss percentage is lowest among Nats regulars. In short, when he finds his pitch, he rarely misses. As a result, he owns the best batting average in the majors at .398 and looks about as locked in as any hitter in the game. 

Tanner Roark, SP: 6.0 IP, 0 ER, 7 K 

Who has the best ERA among Nats starters this season?

It's not Stephen Strasburg. It's not Max Scherzer. It's Roark, who's off to a bit of an unexpected start with a 2.03 ERA over seven outings. Though he didn't earn a decision the past week, he impressed as he managed to out duel NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, tossing six shutout frames in Sunday's series finale against the Cubs.

The great news for the Nats is that Roark is starting to resemble the pitcher who surprisingly won 15 games in 2014 en route to the team claiming the NL East crown. The 29-year-old right hander's performance has been especially fortuitous considering that one of the big questions heading into this season was how the rest of the rotation would perform behind its top two starters. It's early, but so far, so good on that front.  

STOCK DOWN

Mac Scherzer, SP: 1 GS, 7 ER, 3 BB

Scherzer's home run problem reared its ugly head again in Chicago, as the veteran right hander yielded five long balls in what was perhaps his worst outing since he joined the Nats. He now has allowed nine home runs on the season, a mark he didn't reach in 2015 until mid-July.

So what's the issue? It doesn't appear to be health, nor a dip in velocity. For whatever reason —mechanics, perhaps — his breaking pitches are flattening out and his fastball command isn't where it once was. The result is an abundance of mistake pitches, ones which opposing hitters continue to feast off of. That's not to mention his continuing problem with walks (he's almost tallied half of the free passes he issued throughout all of 2015). 

It should go without saying, but the Nats are going to need their $210 million man to start pitching like the ace he was for most of last season. 

Joe Ross, SP: 2 GS, 0-2, 7 ER

Ross may have suffered a bit of a tough-luck loss last week in Chicago, but he was uncharacteristically out of sync Tuesday night vs. the Tigers. He allowed a season-high five earned runs (including his first home run of the year) and was charged with his second loss in as many starts. It was just the second time in his 19 career outings that he's yielded that many runs, so the Nats have to hope Tuesday was nothing more than a blip on the radar. 

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Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm