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Washington Nationals’ Spring Training Storylines: Will Daniel Murphy be ready for Opening Day?

With Spring Training less than a month away, we’ll be taking a look at the big storylines for the defending NL East champion Washington Nationals...

Divisional Round - Chicago Cubs v Washington Nationals - Game Five Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Daniel Murphy put up a .322/.384/.543 line with 43 doubles and 23 home runs over 144 games and 593 plate appearances in a 4.3 fWAR season in 2017. Murphy went 4 for 22 with a double and a home run in Washington’s NLDS matchup with the Chicago Cubs, but after the Nationals’ season came to an end with a loss at home in Game 5 of the series, he underwent surgery on his right knee.

“They called it a cartilage [debridement] and a microfracture surgery,” Murphy said, in a mid-December interview with reporters.

“So from my understanding,” he continued, “I think I had a crack in my cartilage, they were able to remove some of the ‘compromised’ cartilage, microfracture [surgery] to help with the healing and begin the rehab process.”

Murphy admitted that he wasn’t sure if it was an acute injury, or a gradual one that he finally couldn’t ignore.

“I don’t know, to be honest with you, I don’t know if it’s one or the other,” the 32-year-old infielder said, “or if it’s a combination of the two, if maybe it was something acute and then the nature of what we do on a daily basis may have extended that, I honestly don’t know that.”

Murphy also admitted that at that point, two months after the surgery, he wasn’t really a patient patient.

“I think any athlete wants to be healthy, you just want to be healthy, you want to be able to do things,” Murphy said.

“And then you kind of take for granted being able to walk and being able to pick up your children, because I haven’t really been able to do that for about eight weeks, but I think also I’ve had enough people who are really, really smart in the industry say, ‘You’re going to be healthy if you treat this the right way, if you’re sensible about it.’

“And so that’s the goal right now, is just to be smart with it, I’ll be ready to play when it tells me I’m ready to play.”

Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez, who’s getting to know his team as he adjusts to his new role after ten years as a bench coach in Tampa Bay and Chicago, said at the Winter Meetings in early December that he wanted Murphy ready for Opening Day, as opposed to the start of Spring Training.

“He feels like he’s going to be ready for Opening Day and that’s what we’re pushing for,” Martinez explained.

“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.”

“We’ve got a really good infielder in Wilmer Difo,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo said when he was asked if he felt they needed to address their depth at second in case Murphy is not ready for the start of the season.

“[Difo] brings a lot to the table as far as bringing Davey versatility and speed, switch hit, play great defense at shortstop and second base, can play third base, and we can throw him in the outfield. So he gives us versatility, gives us a great talent base, and he showed last year that he can play for extended periods of time and he’s a really good young player that probably deserves to have more time.”

Rizzo told reporters at WinterFest that he was happy with what he’d heard about Murphy to that point.

“I feel good about where he’s at, he feels good about it, he’s moving well, the knee has responded well.”

Murphy used crutches to get around the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last month, but Rizzo said that was out caution given the amount of walking everyone had to do at the event, but he was confident Murphy knew his own body well enough to be careful in his rehab.

“He’s a good gauge of it,” Rizzo said.

“He knows himself and he’s a veteran player who’s not going to out there before he’s ready to go out there and we feel confident about that.”

Are you as confident as Murphy and the Nationals? Will 2018, the third year of the 3-year/$37.5M Murphy signed with Washington, be his last in the nation’s capital? Will Murphy be one of the players the Nationals consider bringing back on a longer-term extension?