The adjustments Daniel Murphy made at the plate that turned him into a playoff hero in 2015 with the Mets weren't just a short-sample mirage after all. He continued to hit balls harder (career-high 38.2 percent hard-hit rate), higher (career-high 41.9 percent flyball rate) and farther (career-high average of 280.6 feet on flyballs) than he ever had before, resulting in -- you guessed it -- a career year that landed him in second place in NL MVP voting. Pitchers weren't able to find a hole in his new approach as the season progressed either, as his first half and second half splits were almost identical, right down to the .985 OPS in both halves. The only thing that slowed him down was a leg injury that limited him to 55 games in the second half, but he was still healthy enough to hit .438 in 16 postseason at-bats. Nagging lower-body injuries are definitely a red flag for a 31-year-old second baseman, especially one that didn't really have a step to lose, and the 21 games Murphy played at first base last year may have been a precursor to a more permanent move, especially if Ryan Zimmerman never returns to form. The offense Murphy supplied in 2016 is more than adequate for a shift down the defensive spectrum, though, even if it's taken on faith that he'll have some regression in his performance, despite the strong indications to the contrary.
Murphy will serve as the designated hitter in a minor-league game Wednesday, Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com reports. The star second baseman has been sidelined with an illness the past two days and has only appeared in eight Grapefruit League games this spring. Murphy is looking to get some additional at-bats at the minor-league level before the regular season kicks off next week.
Murphy has missed the last two days dealing with an illness, Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com reports. It's unclear how much longer Murphy will be sidelined with the illness, so consider the 31-year-old day-to-day until the Nationals note otherwise.
Murphy went 2-for-4 with a double, a run scored and two RBI in Saturday's Grapefruit League game against the Astros. He also struck out twice, an indication that Murphy still has a bit of work to do at the plate to get ready for Opening Day after he barely played during the WBC. Expect the 31-year-old to receive as many at-bats as he can handle over the final week as he looks to recapture the form that produced a career year in 2016.
Murphy will return to camp for the Nationals on Friday, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. With only 10 games left on their spring exhibition schedule, including split-squad games Friday, the Nats don't have much time left to get Murphy ready for Opening Day, after he received only six at-bats during the WBC while playing behind Ian Kinsler at second base for Team USA. Don't be surprised if Murphy gets off to a slow start this season while the 31-year-old tries to find the timing on his swing.
Manager Dusty Baker expressed worries about Murphy being ready for the season due to his lack of game action at the WBC, Mark Zuckerman of MASN reports. Murphy left the Nationals to join Team USA at the WBC 12 days ago, and since then has only registered 11 at-bats, none of which have come in the last week. It doesn't help that he has struggled in his limited at-bats this spring, going 1-for-11 (.091) at the WBC and 3-for-17 (.176) with the Nationals before then. "He didn't have his stuff together when he left," Baker said. "And how are you gonna get yourself together if you're not playing? Batting practice is one thing, but competition is something else. I just hope we can get him enough work." The 31-year-old could return Saturday at the earliest, but could be away until next Wednesday if Team USA advances to the finals. His workload will be something to monitor, and it seems Baker may choose to ease him into the start of the season if he isn't able to get enough work in. Murphy finished second in the NL MVP voting last season while batting .347 with a league-best .985 OPS and should still be counted on for another big campaign, but be prepared for a potentially slow start.