Daniel Murphy is out of the Nationals lineup again Friday night in Pittsburgh. David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — Daniel Murphy, whose left leg injury was not responding to treatment, has a mild strain in his left buttocks, Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said Friday. Murphy underwent an MRI, which revealed the strain, an issue that plagues him most when he is running.

Baker said the Nationals are going “to have to shut him down a few days,” though he had effectively been shut down since Sept, 17  in Atlanta. Murphy pinch-hit twice since then, but Baker tried to use him in two-out situations only, thereby minimizing the need for him to run.

Originally, it seemed the injury occurred on a headfirst slide against the Braves, from which Murphy was slow to get up. That is not when it happened, Baker explained later, though he was unable to identify its origin.

“Usually you don’t really do it on one play,” Baker said. “It’s a progression when your legs are getting tired. And Daniel, like we knew this in the beginning, he’s a legs person. Whether it’s playing defense or offense. So we just feel fortunate that we pulled the plug when we did.”

Murphy had been one of the more durable and consistent Nationals, a reliable staple in the middle of the order, a batting title contender from opening day until the injury, tied for the team record for hits and doubles in a season. When Bryce Harper could not duplicate his MVP performance, as Ryan Zimmerman struggled to find his swing, Murphy shouldered much of the offensive burden. The injury, often called a  glute strain,  is seemingly the only thing that could slow down the 31-year-old’s offensive production.

The National League Division Series begins two weeks from today, meaning Murphy has those two weeks, plus the five days he’s already spent limiting his activities, to heal. Baker would not put a timetable on the injury, but did say “they’re doing everything they can to try to alleviate the pain and get rid of whatever’s in there.”

“I’d hate to see life without Daniel and life without [Stephen Strasburg]. Those two are big horses,” Baker said. “Fortunately for us, we got Drew back when we lost Daniel. This puts him on an accelerated program as far as playing. But I have to be careful not to play him too much.”

Baker said he will likely play Stephen Drew, with whom the Nationals continue to be cautious after his bout with vertigo, Friday and Saturday, but not Sunday. As for Strasburg, the other injured Nationals star, he played catch in the outfield again Friday.

He has done that several times now, always from about 30 feet, always with a break between sets of throws, always deliberately and lightly. Sessions like those are far different from throwing off a mound. Throwing off a mound is far different than making a rehab start. Making a rehab start is far different than making a postseason start. Can anyone reasonably expect Strasburg to return in time for, or at least during the playoffs?

“I don’t know,” Baker said. “I can’t say. We’re still two weeks off. We just have to wait and see. I hate to say ‘I don’t know’ all the time, but I really don’t know. These are questions I really can’t answer…we’ve done all that we can to take the MRIs and put hands on him, a quality fitness crew is here and our medical staff.”

LINEUPS

NATIONALS

Turner CF

Werth LF

Harper RF

Rendon 3B

Ramos C

Drew 2B

Zimmerman 1B

Espinosa SS

Gonzalez P

 

PIRATES