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Nationals' second baseman Daniel Murphy takes on the Mets in Citi Field

Dusty Baker is impressed with what he's seen from Daniel Murphy at the plate early this season. Murphy, 31, signed a 3-year/$37.5M free agent deal with the Washington Nationals this winter, after seven years in the majors with the New York Mets.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Murphy will play his first game in Citi Field as a visitor tonight, assuming he's in the lineup after sitting out of the series finale with the Miami Marlins on Sunday with an illness. Murphy came on to hit late in that game and sent a fly to center for the final out of the the Washington Nationals' 5-1 loss.

Murphy, 31, returns to the park he called home for seven seasons to take on the team that drafted him in the 13th Round of the 2006 Draft and developed him.

"We didn't know exactly how good he was. People were saying, 'Well, was that just a great playoff for him?'" -Dusty Baker on the Nationals signing Daniel Murphy

He returns to Citi Field with a .400/.433/.629 line, 13 doubles and five home runs through 37 games and 150 plate appearances for the Nats, who signed him to a 3-year/$37.5M free agent deal this winter.

Murphy's leading the National League in AVG, is ranked seventh in the NL in OBP, and has the fourth-highest slugging percentage.

He's second in the National League in fWAR (2.3), behind only the Chicago Cubs' Dexter Fowler (2.5 fWAR) among NL hitters, he's hit safely in 31 of 37 games, with multi-hit efforts in 19 games so far this season.

So what's going right for Murphy, who finished his final season in New York with a .281/.322/.449 line, 38 doubles and 14 home runs in 130 games and 538 PAs, then went on an otherworldly run in the postseason, with a .328/.391/.724 line, two doubles and seven home runs in 14 games and 58 PAs.

Dusty Baker talked last week about the work his second baseman has done at the plate in the short time they've been together.

"Daniel, he was the largest acquisition that we made this year," Baker said. "We didn't know exactly how good he was. People were saying, 'Well, was that just a great playoff for him?'

"He's always been a very good hitter, but once you figure out the formula that it takes for you to be successful -- he studies, tirelessly, and he's a guy that has a great idea.

"And you know, just like some pitchers figure it out at a certain age, some hitters figure it out at a certain age when you figure out what your limitations are, what you can do and what you can't do and the hard part for hitters to figure is, 'Am I a hitter or a slugger?'

"And that's where the confusion comes in, especially when you figure out how to hit the ball out of the ballpark like Daniel has, but he's continued to be a hitter, but at the same time he has some slugger's power on occasion."

"New York is always fun to go there, I mean, you know, the people in New York are probably -- some will jeer him, but I think most will cheer him." -Dusty Baker on Daniel Murphy returning to New York

Baker talked on Sunday about how he thinks Murphy will be received when he is back in Citi Field and what he has brought to the Nationals.

"He's brought a .400 hitter. A clutch hitter. A very confident hitter," Baker said. "New York is always fun to go there, I mean, you know, the people in New York are probably -- some will jeer him, but I think most will cheer him.

Because if the Mets had wanted to keep him then they had plenty of chances to try to keep him. It wasn't as if Murph 'left', it was kind of Murph wasn't invited to stay."

Murphy did receive a qualifying offer (1-year/$15.8), but, as he explained this March, before playing the Mets for the first time as a National in Spring Training, he and his representatives at the ACES Baseball Agency believed they'd find a better deal on the open market.

He said some of the Mets' moves made it clear they were going in a different direction before he signed on in the nation's capital.

"I felt like when [Mets' GM] Sandy [Alderson] made the move to get Neil [Walker] for [Jon Niese]... Neil was on the last year of his arbitration -- I think, one, it showed -- Neil is a really good player; two, they really like Dilson [Herrera], as well they should, so it kind of gave them flexibility, and I think as we saw in the offseason, with the three-year deal for me, I think Sandy felt at the time to maintain the flexibility and that kind of [fluidity] in the ballclub, and leave it open for Dilson in the future, that Neil was a better fit at the time and then I'm pretty sure a couple days later, maybe a day later, they signed Asdrubal [Cabrera] as well."

Murphy said he understood the Mets' thinking.

"Yeah. There was nothing malicious in it at all," he said. "Mostly it says as much about -- cause obviously like I said, Neil is a really good player -- but it says a lot about Dilson, who's out there, they have really high hopes for him, and he's a good player and I think he's going to be a really good big leaguer."

Murphy is a really good big leaguer now, for the Nationals, and he'll be back in New York tonight to take on the Mets in the first game of three between the divisional rivals in Citi Field.