Daniel Murphy prefers standing up when facing the media, but on Saturday afternoon, after handing his crutches off to a Washington Nationals employee, he took a seat to take questions about his left knee and his status for the 2018 season.
Eight weeks after undergoing microfracture and debridement surgery Oct. 20, Murphy declined to talk timetables because failing to meet the expectations, he said, would cause unnecessary alarm. So, while General Manager Mike Rizzo and Manager Dave Martinez have said Murphy is on track to be ready for Opening Day, the Nationals second baseman kept it vague.
“I’ve had 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,’ ” Murphy said. “So that’s the goal right now. Just to be smart with it. I’ll be ready to play when it tells me I’m ready to play.”
Murphy said he didn’t know whether it was an acute injury or whether wear and tear produced it. He recalled he initially noticed something was wrong with his knee over the final three games against the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series, but he said he didn’t believe the pain hindered his performance. He batted just .211 in the five-game series, though he went 2 for 5 with a home run, a double and two walks in Game 5.
“It just kind of felt like the normal aches and pains of a season,” Murphy said. “I didn’t really think it would be this significant [until] they got the MRI [exam].”
Harvey Sharman, the club’s medical services director, recently visited Murphy in Jacksonville to evaluate the knee. Sherman told him the knee is “in a really good position” after not putting any weight on it for six weeks, a period that included Murphy’s wife giving birth to their third child a week after his surgery.
Athletes usually need anywhere from six to 12 months to recover from microfracture surgery, the more significant of the two procedures Murphy needed. Even if Murphy were to need just six months, that would keep him out until late April, nearly a month into the regular season.
But there have been outliers. One was Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, Murphy’s good friend and former teammate with the New York Mets. Turner underwent microfracture surgery in late October 2015 and played on Opening Day in April 2016. Turner then enjoyed a breakout season at age 31. Murphy turns 33 on April 1.
“He did pretty good after this,” Murphy opined.
If Murphy isn’t ready for Opening Day, the Nationals will turn to Wilmer Difo at second base. Difo broke out in 2017, establishing himself as a major leaguer when given the opportunity to play shortstop every day for over two months after Trea Turner broke his wrist. The 26-year-old batted .271 with 10 steals for the season while appearing at shortstop, second base, third base and each spot in the outfield.
“He feels like he’s going to be ready for Opening Day,” Martinez said of Murphy on Saturday. “That’s what we’re pushing for. That’s if there’s no bumps in the road. But hopefully we get him back for that. If we don’t, we have pieces to keep us afloat until he gets back.”
But not having Murphy, who is entering the final year of his contract, would be a blow for the Nationals. He has been one of baseball’s top hitters over the past two seasons, finishing second in 2016 in the National League MVP voting after nearly winning the batting crown before settling for a .322 batting average and .928 OPS last season.
The emergence surfaced after Murphy overhauled his philosophy at the plate and focused on hitting the ball in the air starting in his final season with the New York Mets in 2015. Kevin Long, the Mets’ hitting coach at the time, oversaw Murphy’s transformation. Long is now the Nationals’ hitting coach, and his former pupil cannot wait to work with him.
“My boy’s coming back,” Murphy said with a smile.
But before Murphy can work on his craft with his close friend, he’ll have to make sure his knee is ready for the grind.
Read more baseball coverage: