With two days left until their playoff opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Nationals still expect second baseman Daniel Murphy to be in the starting lineup for Game 1.
The 31-year-old, hampered by a left glute strain, spent Wednesday’s pre-NLDS workout making progress toward his first start since Sept. 17. Like Tuesday, he was seen taking batting practice and fielding ground balls at second base. The big step he took Wednesday was that he was able to run the bases successfully for the first time in a few weeks.
“I felt really good today,” a sweaty Murphy said at his locker shortly after the workout. “I think today was a step in the right direction. See how we respond tomorrow. Get some work in tomorrow. See Friday.”
“He's looking better every day,” added manager Dusty Baker. “He's moving around with more confidence.”
Murphy highlighted the importance of getting reps on the base paths, perhaps the area he’s been limited the most since the injury.
“I think that’s the toughest part when you take some time off, replicating the turns,” he said. “The real answer to that is there’s things I’m not going to be able to replicate until the bell rings. Some of this stuff I won’t find out until I’m in game action.”
If all goes as expected and Murphy plays, he’ll return to the stage that made him a household name in 2015. While guiding the New York Mets to a World Series appearance, he slashed .328/.391/.724 with seven home runs and 11 RBI. And as fate would have it, the man who would be Murphy’s future manager had a front row seat to that torrid stretch as a broadcaster.
“I was at TBS for a couple of those games,” Baker said. “I just thought 'nah, he can't do it again.' And the next thing you know, he does it again. Then it's like 'nah, he can't do it this time again.' And then he does it again. [The Mets] wouldn't have gotten there if it weren't for Daniel Murphy. It would have made it tough on us to get where we wanted to go without Daniel Murphy. Not only at the plate, but also his leadership on the field.”
Murphy, of course, parlayed his impressive postseason run by signing a three-year, $37.5 million contract with the Nats the following winter. Nearly a year later, he’s already outperformed that deal. He became Washington’s best hitter this season, putting himself into the NL MVP discussion by proving that his final act with the Mets was no fluke.
And assuming Murphy's health allows him to embark on his second straight playoff appearance, the Nats will hope he'll be able to rekindle some of that 2015 magic.
“I think the biggest thing is to enjoy the moment,” Murphy said. “…that's what I’ve learned from the postseason: enjoy the times, enjoy the goals you’ve accomplished because it allows you to stay in the moment a little more.”