PHILADELPHIA — After his club’s 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night, Manager Dave Martinez said Daniel Murphy’s status for the series finale Sunday was unclear. Murphy hadn’t been available Friday and was available Saturday only in an “emergency situation,” which was why Murphy wasn’t used to pinch hit until the ninth inning. Martinez wanted to avoid having Murphy on the basepaths and in the field. With his bench already short, he didn’t want to burn him early.
The decision, Martinez explained, stemmed from a conversation with Murphy. He came to the conclusion that “it just didn’t feel like he was getting under his legs a little bit.” Later on, however, Martinez said Murphy approached him and told him he felt significantly better. He wanted to play Sunday. So Martinez asked him if he wanted to play second base. Let’s go for it, Murphy said, and Martinez did.
“He’s our second baseman, and he’s back,” Martinez said ahead of the Nationals’ 4-3 loss in 13 innings. “So if he wants to play then, you know what, it’s time for him to go out there and play second base, see what he can do and see where we’re at.”
Murphy ended up playing all 13 innings at second base. Offensively, he went 0 for 5 with a walk and a run scored. Defensively, he had trouble getting the ball out of his glove to turn a double play in the seventh inning, but didn’t have any other problems otherwise.
It wasn’t the first time Murphy played second base this season — he had logged four innings across two games at second base for the Nationals and started there in eight rehab games. But it was a significant step for a player coming off microfracture surgery on his left knee. The assignment required more mobility from the 33-year-old Murphy, who is still navigating unfamiliar territory as he works his way back.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t have any expectations of what this would look like,” Murphy said. “I’ve had knee injuries before, but I’ve never had surgery before. So I can speak to as many guys who have had it and their experiences, but they were never my own experiences. So even talking to Justin Turner [the Dodgers third baseman who underwent mircrofrature surgery in 2015] and the surgeon and our training staff who have dealt with this, until I went through it I was never going to know. And so to be honest, I never really had any expectations, because I knew I didn’t know what to expect.”
Murphy was among a few players taking early batting practice in the searing heat Saturday afternoon, several hours before the Nationals’ loss. He did not look inhibited in the batter’s box. If his surgically repaired left knee was bothering him, it wasn’t apparent.
A few hours later, Murphy stepped into the batter’s box with two outs in the ninth inning and stroked a line drive down the right field line. He ended up at second base with a double and was replaced with a pinch runner. It was, he said, one of his best swings since coming off the disabled list on June 12. It was his second extra-base hit — both doubles — since returning and raised his batting average to .200. His OPS entering Sunday stands at .471 in 52 plate appearances.
“It’s a tough league to be productive in if you’re not clicking on all cylinders,” Murphy said. “So yeah, it was nice to be rewarded for some hard work last night. And, hopefully, I can have some good at-bats today.”
As Murphy explained it, he told Martinez before Saturday’s he was available in any situation necessary, whether in a pinch-hit spot or in a double switch. Martinez, however, elected to play it safe. A day later, he put a bigger burden on his all-star second baseman. They believed Sunday was time.
“This is going to be, him and I, communication is going to be the key here,” Martinez said. “I tell him all the time, ‘Hey, if you think you need days off, we’re going to give you days off just to keep you fresh and keep you healthy.’ So he said the day off, he thought it really helped him do some stuff, different things. And he said he was good to go today. I asked him this morning, too, again, and he said he felt fine.”
• Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Wieters and Matt Adams are slated to hit in a simulated game at Nationals Park on Monday. They’ll face minor leaguers brought up for the session. Zimmerman has been on the disabled list since May 12 with an oblique strain and was transferred to the 60-day DL on Saturday. The first baseman is eligible for activation July 9, but can be sent out on a rehab assignment for up to 30 days at any point.
Adams’s return appears more imminent. Out since fracturing his left index finger in mid-June, Adams has been taking batting practice with the club in recent days and said he only feels pain in the finger with his hits the ball off the end of the bat.
Wieters, meanwhile, underwent surgery on his hamstring surgery in mid-May. Running, not hitting, remains his final obstacle before returning and he hasn’t run the bases yet.
Adam Eaton RF
Trea Turner SS
Juan Soto LF
Anthony Rendon 3B
Bryce Harper CF
Daniel Murphy 2B
Mark Reynolds 1B
Pedro Severino C
Gio Gonzalez P
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Rhys Hoskins 1B
Odubel Herrera CF
Aaron Altherr RF
Scott Kingery SS
Jesmuel Valentin 3B
Jorge Alfaro C
Nick Williams LF
Jake Arrieta P