JUPITER, Fla. — Dusty Baker did not rant or rave about the fact that Daniel Murphy has had four at-bats in four WBC games with Team USA. He did not rage against the fact that Tanner Roark did not pitch for as long, nor as often, as Baker expected. But he did calmly express concern that both are spending a crucial part of spring sitting on the bench for Team USA instead of getting ready for the Nationals’ season.
“I think it’s hurting Tanner and Murph as much as anybody,” Baker said. “And Murph probably more than Tanner.”
Roark was part of the designated pitchers pool for Team USA, meaning he could be sent back to training camp between rounds. But after a disappointing inning-plus of work out of the bullpen in Round 1, Roark decided to stay. When he did, Baker understood he was staying to make an appearance out of the bullpen, then to start.
But Team USA has two games left in the second round of round robin play, and Roark is not scheduled to start either of them. As it stands, Team USA lists Marcus Stroman as the starter Friday and Danny Duffy Saturday. Roark relieved Stroman last Saturday, and would therefore be on regular rest to pitch Friday. But a few innings out of the bullpen was not quite what Baker had in mind for Roark, who won 16 games with a 2.83 ERA last season. Had he stayed, Roark would probably have made his fourth start of the spring this week. When he left, he had built up to four innings, meaning he probably would be nearing regular-season endurance by this time. He has thrown 1 1/3 in-game innings since March 5.
More worrisome to Baker, however, is Murphy, who “didn’t have his stuff together when he left.”
“How are you going to get your stuff together when you’re not playing?” Murphy said. “Batting practice is one thing, but competition is something else.”
Murphy got four at-bats as the designated hitter in Team USA’s first game. He struck out twice, in keeping with what had been a slow start to spring training. Murphy is hitting .214 in his first 19 plate appearances with the Nationals this spring.
Baker said as far as he knows, Murphy is healthy. But after the hamstring injury that forced Murphy to sit out the final two weeks of the 2016 season, Baker worries that playing Murphy enough to get him ready for the season might flirt with overworking him.
“I just hope we can get him enough work without … you don’t even have to overwork him,” Baker said. “His chances of getting hurt are increased.”
Leyland, Team USA’s manager, has not posted a lineup for Friday night’s game in San Diego. Baker said he has not spoken to Leyland about his concerns and doesn’t plan to.
“He has more than Murphy to care about. It’s his team,” Baker said. “He’s a good manager and a good friend of mine. He’s doing his thing trying to win games.”
The United States is 1-0 in the second round of pool play, which concludes with games Friday night and Saturday. The tournament finals are scheduled for next Wednesday, less than two weeks before Opening Day.