“Until you prove that that jacket is what it is, reputations don’t mean anything to me,” Baker said this weekend. “You start all over with a clean slate. Murphy has done an outstanding job and no one works harder on it than him. And I’m sure he is aware what people say. But hey, I don’t care what they say, he’s done an outstanding job.”
Through 22 games this season, Murphy is one of only eight qualified second basemen with no errors. Advanced defensive statistics are fickle early in the season and they penalize Murphy for his range. But by some measures, Murphy has been a near-average defender, which is an improvement already. While his fielding technique may not be graceful, Murphy has made mostly all the needed plays.
“I’m pleased I haven’t drop-kicked one,” Murphy said. “That’s nice. Between [bench coach Chris] Speier working with me in spring and Stephen Drew has worked hard with me. Just both of them giving me pointers and things that they see that can make me a bit more consistent that they’ve seen in the way I take ground balls. I’m very happy with being able to catch the balls I’m supposed to catch. That’s always my goal each year.”
Murphy said Speier, who is charge of coaching the infielders on defense, and fellow infielder Drew have offered the best advice on how to improve his consistency. Both have urged him to work on his setup before a play.
“You have to put yourself in a good athletic position to start with or you’re always playing catch up the whole way through,” he said.
The two specific tips Speier and Drew have offered Murphy involve how he gets ready for a ground ball.
“I get a little bit lazy with my left foot,” Murphy said. “The more my left foot hangs back, the less give you have in your hands. They’re not as soft. Stephen Drew was telling me that sometimes I sit back on my heels a little bit, instead of attacking the ball a little bit. Being more on the ball of my feet and that makes me more athletic. Athleticism gives you freedom in your hands.”
In a short amount of time, Murphy and double-play partner Danny Espinosa, at shortstop, have learned how to work together. Entering Sunday’s game, the Nationals are tied with Royals with eight errors, the fewest in baseball. They have turned 25 double plays, most of them thanks to Espinosa and Murphy.
“They’ve done well in a short period of time,” Baker said. “That’s what people don’t understand. That double play unit has to be together. The only way to be together is to spend time together.
“Danny is so consistent,” Murphy added. “His feeds are always so good. He makes it really easy on his second basemen. I’m getting to reap the benefits of how good he is at shortstop. Hopefully we can continue to turn the double plays we’re supposed to turn and catch the balls we’re supposed to catch.”
While he has worked to improve his defense, Murphy’s bat been a big boost for the Nationals. He has been the most consistent hitter in the lineup, more than even Bryce Harper. Entering Sunday’s game, Murphy is third in baseball with a .370 average. His 1.014 OPS is eighth in the National League. He has hits in 19 of his 22 games, along with a major league-leading 11 multi-hit games.
“We’re playing good baseball right now,” he said. “I think we’re putting ourselves in a position to really compete for this division title. We’re in first place right now. That’s what I’m most pleased about. At the end of the season, if we play good baseball, everybody is going to get a piece of it. There’s definitely ebbs and flows to the season. Fortunately I’ve been able to help us win some ballgames. But that’s what it’s about, winning baseball games.”