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Murphy makes progress in pre-NLDS workout, Nats still expect him to start Game 1

Murphy makes progress in pre-NLDS workout, Nats still expect him to start Game 1

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.”


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Ryan Zimmerman on coronavirus pandemic: 'It's like I'm retired, but I can't leave the house'

Ryan Zimmerman on coronavirus pandemic: 'It's like I'm retired, but I can't leave the house'

Just a few weeks after the Nationals hoisted the Commissioner's Trophy last fall as World Series champions, Ryan Zimmerman had a decision to make.

The longtime Nationals infielder has played in every season since the club moved to Washington in 2005 and holds multiple franchise records. The two-time All-Star, who turned 35 this past September, had to decide to return to the Nationals for another season or to retire as a champion.

After a couple of months of contemplating the decision, Zimmerman decided to keep playing. The Nationals re-signed the infielder to a one-year deal in February, hoping to get a victory lap, if nothing else.

"That was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to come back," Zimmerman said in an interview with NBC Washington. "I still love playing and think I can be productive, but I wanted to see what it was like to have a season where you're the defending World Series champions, to see how much fun it would be. Going on the road and see our fans, people that are excited to see us that don't necessarily live in D.C."

The MLB season was supposed to begin last Thursday, and the Nationals home opener was set for April 1. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, baseball, like all other professional sports, is currently on pause.

"I always thought when I wasn't doing anything in the spring, that during the summer I'd be able to do anything I want," Zimmerman said. "It's like I'm retired, but I can't leave the house."

As for the sports fans that are missing watching their favorite teams every day, Zimmerman feels for them.

"Were just as bummed as they are," he said. "You don't realize how much you miss sports until they're gone."

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Zimmerman has been home with his wife, Heather, and two daughters, Mackenzie and Hayden. While the couple admitted they are not used to being home this much during this time of the year, they said they were "blessed" to be in the situation they are in.

The infielder has served as the primary cook of the household, making dinner for the family every night, while Heather said she has a good routine down with the two young girls.

"It's been an interesting time," Heather said. "We're just taking each day at a time, shift every day to make it work."

Throughout their time in Washington, Zimmerman and his family have been very active in the community. During the difficult times for many, they have helped hospitals by sending over lunches, donating money, and purchasing items for a local women's shelter through an Amazon wishlist. 

While the Zimmerman's wait for the next time they can head to Nationals Park and resume their normal lives, they agree there are way more important things to be thinking about right now.

"The most important part is everyone stays safe and thinks about each other," Zimmerman said. "Baseball will come back at some point. But right now, there are a lot more important things than baseball."

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Max Scherzer remains in West Palm Beach, continues to work toward the start of the season

Max Scherzer remains in West Palm Beach, continues to work toward the start of the season

Everyone else had stopped. The Nationals were still playing.

Commissioner Rob Manfred decided to shut down spring training, stall the start of the season and formulate a plan for Major League Baseball’s response to the growing coronavirus pandemic in mid-March.

The Nationals were still on the field when baseball slammed on its breaks. Once off of it, they, like all the other players, were mired in a space filled with confusion and wonder. What’s next? What does this mean professionally? What does this mean personally?

“We just didn’t know what was going to happen,” Max Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington. “We were trying to get as much education and trying to learn exactly how this was going to shake down, what that meant, not only for us, but across the world and kind of what the new normal was going to look like. And, what we were going to be able to do and not do at the team complex. It just seemed like every 24 hours, everything was changing and it basically was there for like a 10-day period, and I think everybody was trying to figure out how they wanted to handle the situation with their families.”

Scherzer continued his workouts at the facility until it was closed and converted to a coronavirus testing center late last week. Since, he’s been home in a rental house and maintaining on his own.

He snagged some weights from the clubs’ glass-enclosed gym and resistance bands from the minor-league side of things on his way out. Scherzer works out in the morning. He’s also still throwing. He’s on the mound twice a week, going through 40- to 50-pitch bullpen sessions with a partner.

“What we’re trying to really get to grasp on is how long is this going to last and basically when the startup of the season is going to happen again,” Scherzer said. “As of right now, everybody has kind of circled June 1 though we obviously know that’s not firm. But that kind of looks like the earliest potential kickoff of three weeks of spring training, then the season. In my head, that’s kind of where I am basing everything off of right now.”

Last time the public saw Scherzer, he was sore. Pain in his right lat built up from his throwing sessions. The reason was because he put more stress out there -- purposely -- in order to keep it off his middle back. That was the problem last season when he twice ended up on the injured list. Scherzer is not sore now.

“Literally right after the whole shutdown, that next week when I was playing catch and throwing bullpens, I was feeling really, really good,” Scherzer said. “It’s hard to even say it was an injury. For me, physically, I feel great right now. I’m ready to ramp back up. Really ready to get back after it. Doing everything I can to stay as strong as I can right now so when we get the green light to go, hopefully, I’m off and running.”

Scherzer didn’t watch old games or get a baseball fix on Opening Day. He didn’t want thoughts about being on the field in his head. No “We should be playing…” in any other circumstance. Instead, he just continued to prepare, perhaps the top quality which will put him into Cooperstown when his career ends.

When -- or if -- the season does resume, Scherzer wants to be ready to throw three innings right away. He foresees three weeks of spring training before the new Opening Day. That means four starts for a pitcher. He would be ready for seven innings by the end.

Until then, he’s trying to enjoy family time, stay focused on preparation, and not let his usually busy mind drift too far. Time to talk trash, time to be with his teammates, time to stalk the mound will come again someday.

“You can always look at every situation with a positive or negative kind of light,” Scherzer said. “We were ready to start the season. We were all ready. We were gung-ho ready to start the season. The thing is, life in this world now, we’ve all had to deal with drastic change to our lives and everybody’s trying to do the best they can to cope with it and try to make the best of the situation when we’re in such a dire crisis right now. For me, just trying to find everything I can do to stay ready for when we do get the call to get the season going.”

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