WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Daniel Murphy looked in the mirror and decided it was time to make a change. So, Tuesday morning, he took a seat in the barber’s chair in the bathroom in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse. He was scheduled for his annual photo and video shoot for the footage that will be used on the scoreboard at Nationals Park during the season later on. It was time to trim the locks and shave the beard.
“This decision today is for about the next seven months,” a clean-shaven Murphy said Tuesday afternoon. “So I reevaluated how I look.”
When the footage will be needed remains uncertain. While his teammates went through a full-squad workout on Tuesday, Murphy was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Howie Kendrick was at second base during defensive drills with the projected starters. Murphy was working on his own, still rehabbing from the microfracture surgery he underwent on his right knee on Oct. 20.
He said he’s excited with his progress, which includes a recent reintroduction to baseball activities. So far, he’s been cleared to play catch, take groundballs on his knees and run on a treadmill at 60 percent weight-bearing.
Manager Dave Martinez and General Manager Mike Rizzo have recently said Murphy is on track to be ready for Opening Day, but with that 38 days away, Murphy declined to share whether he believed he will be ready at the start of the season.
“I’m generally optimistic,” Murphy said, “that when they put me in the lineup, I won’t come out.”
Murphy explained doctors gave him a timetable of four to six months, which approximately places the day he’ll be cleared anywhere from Tuesday to April 20 if he doesn’t suffer any setbacks. He still hasn’t swung a bat and doesn’t know how many he’d need to feel right before playing in games that matter, but hopes falling asleep to at-bats in his mind will help with the transition.
“I may be a little bit unique or crazy,” Murphy said.
The three-time all-star said he has been encouraged by his talks with Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, a friend and former teammate who underwent the same procedure in 2015. The two recently spoke and Murphy found he was maintaining Turner’s recovery pace.
Turner had the surgery on Oct. 21, one day after Murphy did two years later. He was in the Dodgers’ lineup on Opening Day on April 4 and went on to enjoy a breakout season.
“Each one’s always going to be different,” Murphy said. “I’m more asking him what it looks like, what he experienced, more in the future. Because where I am currently is really not going to change too much. So kind of what to expect is what we’ve talked about.”
The hurdle comes at a particularly inopportune stage for Murphy. Not only can’t he work with old friend Kevin Long, the man he credits for helping him morph into one of baseball’s best hitters in 2015 when they were both with the New York Mets, but he is slated to hit free agency next winter, meaning his performance in his age-33 season will be freshest on the minds of executives when he’s looking for a job. He stressed he will not let the impending status affect his performance.
“The cool part about baseball is that I just get to go out there and play,” Murphy said. “That’s what I can control — being prepared every single day, trying to win baseball games.”
For now, that’s working on his own, rehabbing that right knee effectively so that he returns as the middle-of-the-order pillar that has fueled the Nationals offense the past two seasons. He has another five weeks. The beard should be back by then.