WASHINGTON, D.C.: In the five games of the Washington Nationals’ NLDS loss to the Chicago Cubs this past October, Daniel Murphy, who’d torched the Cubbies for nine hits, a double, and four home runs in New York’s four-game sweep of Chicago in the NLCS in 2015, went just 4 for 19 with a double and a home run.
Murphy told reporters on Saturday afternoon at the Nationals’ WinterFest celebration in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center that he thought about his performance in that series when he heard that Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker would not be returning for a third year on the bench in the nation’s capital.
“I really, really enjoyed my time with Dusty,” Murphy said. “He was great. I truly enjoyed it. I thought he was great for our ballclub and for our clubhouse.
“I’d say my initial thoughts were I really wish I would have swung the bat better,” he said when asked about Baker’s departure, “because I do feel there’s an extent that if we were possibly able to win that first series, things could have possibly been different. I don’t want to predict the future, but I didn’t really play well in that division series, so it kind of frustrated me a bit, but again, I think the organization has proven time and again while I’ve been here that they have our ballclub’s best interest in mind and they felt it was the right decision to move on.”
Once the Nationals’ season ended, Murphy underwent debridement and microfracture surgery on his right knee to remedy an issue he said cropped up in the final few games of his second campaign in D.C.
“Maybe just the last three games against the Cubs where I was aware of like, ‘This may be more than just nicks, something is going to probably need to get looked at at the end the season,’” Murphy explained. “But it wasn’t anything that I felt was lingering or really, I didn’t feel like it had any impact on my game. Tough to say whether it did or not, but it just kind of felt like the normal aches and pains of the season. I didn’t think it would really be this significant once they got the MRI.”
His first thoughts when he got the results of the MRI?
“No golf,” Murphy joked.
“Yeah. And six weeks non-weight-bearing, my son was none too pleased. My three-and-a-half year old. So, you’re thinking that it’s not the first time I’ve had to rehab, it’s not the first time somebody’s gotten hurt playing the game.”
The surgery, however, Murphy acknowledged, is not all that common among players, though his one-time Mets’ teammate Justin Turner underwent the same procedure.
He did talk with the Dodgers’ infielder eventually, though he didn’t want to bother Turner before the surgery.
“I’ve talked to Justin about this,” he said, “... and so when I originally found out I was going to have to have surgery he was playing some really important baseball games at the time, so I decided it might be best to not really talk to him about that, I think he would have because he’s so gracious to me, and actually he just got married, so we’ve just talked a little bit in passing about how he felt and some of the things that he felt leading into the surgery and then afterwards, but what little we have spoken, he’s given me a ton of assurances that if we’re sensible about this and treat it the right way, it should hopefully be healthy.”
Murphy wasn’t, however, willing to discuss a timetable for when he should be back at 100% health.
“It’s going to be a progression,” Murphy explained. “I don’t want to put any timetables on it, because if you miss them, you guys get really fishy when stuff like that’s happened. I think right now, Harvey Sharman was able to come down to Jacksonville, our head trainer, and take a look at my knee. He said it’s in really good position right now, being eight weeks in, so I was really pleased to hear that, kind of a validation of some of the work that I’ve done.”
New Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez, in his own interview at WinterFest, said the goal is to get Murphy ready for Opening Day.
“He feels like he’s going to be ready for Opening Day and that’s what we’re pushing for,” Martinez explained.
“So, that’s up to, like I said, there are no bumps in the road, hopefully we get him back for that. If we don’t we’ve got pieces to keep us afloat till he gets back, but I can’t wait till he’s fully healthy.”
Murphy said he’d talked to his new manager briefly during WinterFest, and on the phone after the Nationals hired Martinez, discussing their families and more, but he said he looked forward to really getting to know the first-year skipper during Spring Training.
Murphy will also get to work with his former hitting coach from the Mets, Kevin Long, who was hired as part of Martinez’s staff after interviewing for the managerial gig in Washington.
“I was very excited,” Murphy said, when asked about his reaction to the news of Long’s hiring.
“My boy’s coming back,” Murphy joked. “I talk to Kevin quite a bit. We had kind of been talking leading up to it. I think there was — he interviewed for the managing job, and then my hat’s off to [Nats’ GM Mike] Rizzo, kind of transitioned really quickly to that hitting coach position, and I was over the moon. I think everybody knows how I feel about Kevin and kind of what I feel like he’s been able to do and help me in my career, but also with what I learned from Kevin, the last few years was kind of taken by Rick Schu and Jacque Jones as well, but I’m very excited to have Kevin here.”
So what will Long bring to his role with the Nationals?
“One thing that I think Kevin does such a great job of, is being able to relate to everyone in such a great way,” Murphy explained.
“So he’s more having to deal with thirteen different personalities to try to get them ready to play well that night, get their swing ready, so what may work for me doesn’t necessarily work for another one of their position players, but he does a great job of finding what makes each guy tick, at least I’ve found in my experience.”
Murphy will be reunited with Long this season, but it could potentially be the 32-year-old infielder’s final season in D.C.
In the first two years of the 3-year/$37.5M contract he signed with the Nationals, he’s put up a combined .334/.387/.569 line with 90 doubles and 48 home runs, but he’s set to hit free agency after this season if he doesn’t sign an extension. He wasn’t, however, willing to discuss his contract status this afternoon.
“That’s an offseason question,” Murphy said, “just not this offseason.”