NEW YORK — The Washington Nationals reinstated second baseman Daniel Murphy from the disabled list Tuesday, rendering him active for the first time in 2018 ahead of their series opener against the New York Yankees. Washington optioned infielder Adrian Sanchez to Class AAA Syracuse to make room on the roster.
Murphy, 33, underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee in October and missed the first-place Nationals’ first 63 games as they went 36-27 without him. He was quickly inserted in the Nationals’ lineup Tuesday as their designated hitter, batting fifth.
“Man, it’s very exciting,” he said before going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his season debut. “A little bit nervous as well. It’s been about eight months since I played.”
Murphy last played for the Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS last fall when his manager, Dave Martinez, was the opposition’s bench coach. He got his first taste of live action in mid-April with extended spring training games before beginning a rehab assignment on May 26. The stint with Class AA Harrisburg lasted 10 games. He batted .243 with two home runs in 44 plate appearances, but hitting wasn’t the concern. He was hitting during spring training. Mobility, on defense and the base paths, was the focus.
“From the beginning to the end, I felt like my brain trusted that my knee is healthy,” Murphy said. “So that was able to get better. And then I think by the end of it, the baseball skills were getting better as well. I felt better defensively. I felt better offensively. Spring training probably is necessary for me moving forward because I did need those games.”
Murphy has insisted there isn’t any discomfort in the knee, but the surgery’s impact, which both he and Martinez have hinted is more mental, was apparent during his rehab assignment. On the base paths, Murphy has jogged with an obvious hitch, though he appeared less hindered when sprinting, and didn’t stop as quickly as he normally would. Defensively, he made six errors in his eight starts at second base, which suggests his range was limited.
“Last one to come is probably decelerating, and then coming in on groundballs,” Murphy said. “Those were some of the last ones to come. And I think as I get out there, it may not always look pretty, but my game has never really been pretty. I’ve spent a lot of time on my back falling down, so it’s just kind of the nature of the beast.”
Barring an unexpected development, the Nationals won’t have to worry about Murphy’s defensive capabilities at least until Monday because they have the luxury of using Murphy as a designated hitter for the next five games, which will be at American League ballparks. Martinez said Murphy will be back in the lineup as their designated hitter Wednesday if he responds well to playing Tuesday, but there isn’t a set plan beyond that. Murphy didn’t play more than two days in a row during his rehab assignment, but, according to Martinez, the plan is to communicate with Murphy every day to evaluate his availability.
“I don’t want him to look pretty,” Martinez said. “I just want him to do his job, and we’ll see how it goes. When we get back to the National League, once he takes his three or four at-bats and we have a lead, we can do different things and he understands that. He’s just happy to be back, and we’re happy to be back.”
Murphy emerged as one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters as a National the past two seasons, batting a combined .334 with a .956 OPS. He was named an all-star each year and was the runner-up for the 2016 NL MVP award. His presence lengthens and adds punch to a Nationals offense that has been inconsistent throughout the season. With Murphy now back and Adam Eaton’s return over the weekend, the pieces are falling in place and the potent lineup Washington envisioned is finally coming together.
“I feel good,” Murphy said. “I spoke with [General Manager] Mike Rizzo and I think we were both really honest with each other. I didn’t want to come back if I didn’t feel like I was ready. I think I’m in a position to help this team win baseball games, and that’s my goal right now.”
Adam Eaton LF
Trea Turner SS
Bryce Harper RF
Anthony Rendon 3B
Daniel Murphy DH
Mark Reynolds 1B
Michael A. Taylor CF
Pedro Severino C
Wilmer Difo 2B
Tanner Roark P
Brett Gardner LF
Aaron Judge RF
Greg Bird 1B
Giancarlo Stanton DH
Didi Gregorius SS
Aaron Hicks CF
Neil Walker 3B
Austin Romine C
Gleyber Torres 2B
CC Sabathia P