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Nationals' first-half MVP Daniel Murphy finishes strong in New York, crushes Mets

"He's a professional hitter," Mike Rizzo told reporters when he introduced Daniel Murphy this winter. "Can fall out of bed hitting. And he's shown it against us." He's shown it against the New York Mets now too, in the first half of his first season in D.C.

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With a 7 for 17 (.412/.444/.1.059), two double, three home run series in Citi Field this past weekend, former New York Mets' infielder Daniel Murphy improved to 22 for 52 (.423/.446/.885) with three doubles, seven home runs and 21 RBIs over 14 games and 56 plate appearances against his former employer so far this season.

Murphy finished the first half of the first year of his 3-year/$37.5M free agent deal with the Nationals with a fairly gaudy .348/.387/.598 line, 25 doubles, four triples, a career-high 17 home runs, 18 walks, 38 Ks and 66 RBIs over 87 games and 362 plate appearances.

"You've got to pitch him in, but you've got to pitch him away too. You've got to throw him soft and you've got to throw him hard, you can't go at Dan Murphy just one way." -Terry Collins on how to attack Daniel Murphy

"Murph, man he's unbelievable," Dusty Baker told reporters after Murphy hit a two-run home run early in the Nats' 3-2 win over the Mets in the first-half finale on Sunday.

"I mean he's even amazing some of our guys and when you've got a guy like that, that's carrying you, now we need some other guys that we know, we're positive, that they're going to pick it up in the second half, and boy, that was a very good weekend for us."

Baker talked about Murphy's approach at the plate after his second baseman went 3 for 4 with a home run, a walk and four driven in in the Nationals' 6-1 win over the Mets on Saturday night.

The walk came in his final at bat in the top of the ninth with Murphy a triple short of the cycle, but there was no hint he was altering his approach in any way, which impressed his manager.

"The thing about Murphy, he does what Luke Appling told me to do. He said: ‘Don’t give them away. Don’t give away at-bats,’" Baker told reporters, as quoted by MASN's Mark Zuckerman.

"He certainly could have given that one away going for the cycle, but he didn’t. He stayed within himself. Rarely does he over-swing and rarely does he give away at-bats."

Murphy's former manager, Terry Collins, was asked if Mets' pitchers needed to pound the left-handed hitting infielder inside to avoid letting him continue to do what he's done against them so far this season?

"Not necessarily," Collins explained. "Dan Murphy will have a game plan each and every at bat. You've got to pitch him in, but you've got to pitch him away too. You've got to throw him soft and you've got to throw him hard, you can't go at Dan Murphy just one way."

"He leads the majors with a .348 batting average," ESPN Stats & Info writer Mark Simon wrote on Monday.

"His .598 slugging percentage trails only those of David Ortiz and Jake Lamb. His rate of strikeouts per plate appearances (10.5 percent) ranks seventh lowest in the majors, second lowest in the National League, trailing only Joe Panik (10.2 percent)."

Simon also wrote about the changes Murphy made at the plate, moving closer so that he can, "take more impactful swings against outer-half pitches." The results thus far?:

"He’s hitting .375 with a .596 slugging percentage against them. Those are jumps of 100 points and 166 points from his 2015 numbers (.275 and .430). From 2009 to 2014, Murphy never even slugged .400 against those pitches.

"He has an idea. He has a heck of an idea," Baker explained when asked in a mid-May press conference about what was behind Murphy's success at the plate.

"If anything, he uses probably that iPad in the dugout as much as anybody. You get to a point in time in your career when you know almost what's coming almost all the time by a pitcher's windup, by the sequence of pitches, by the situation.

"'The guy is trying to make me hit into a double play... he's going to do this to you and that to you.'"

"If a guy is trying to strike me out he's going to do something else to you and then you start believing by your success that you're doing the right thing. And he has a system. Everybody has to find their comfort-level and their own system on what makes them successful.

"So what works for Murph might not work for this guy and what works for this guy might not work for that guy, but there are certain absolutes of being a good hitter that you must practice and he's practicing most of them."

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