JUPITER, Fla. - Managers always have concerns when one of their players leaves camp for several weeks to play in the World Baseball Classic. Those concerns only grow when one of their players leaves camp for several weeks and then barely plays in the WBC.
Murphy, who finished second in National League MVP voting last season after batting .347 with a league-best .985 OPS, has been an afterthought on Jim Leyland’s WBC roster. He started both of the Americans’ exhibition games on March 8-9, then served as designated hitter for their WBC opener March 10 against Colombia.
Since then, he has disappeared, not playing in any of the USA’s three subsequent games. (The lineup for tonight’s game against Puerto Rico hasn’t been announced yet.)
Dusty Baker said Murphy’s lack of playing time hasn’t had anything to do with an injury.
“What did he get hurt doing?” the Nationals manager said with more than a hint of sarcasm.
It hasn’t helped matters that Murphy was already struggling to find his swing before he left camp nearly two weeks ago. He had only three hits in 17 at-bats with the Nationals; he has only one hit in his 11 at-bats with Team USA.
“He didn’t have his stuff together when he left,” Baker said. “And how are you gonna get yourself together if you’re not playing? Batting practice is one thing, but competition is something else. ... What can I do about it until Murph gets back? I just hope we can get him enough work.”
Saturday is the earliest the Americans could be eliminated, but if they advance out of Pool F in San Diego, they would then head to Los Angeles for the championship round, which runs Monday through Wednesday.
Tanner Roark also is on Team USA’s roster. The right-hander pitched 1 1/3 innings of relief on March 11 and is slated to appear again out of the bullpen either tonight or Saturday.
Baker insisted he doesn’t hold any of this against Leyland.
“It’s his team,” Baker said. “He has more than Murphy to care about. It’s his team, and Jim’s a good man and a good friend of mine. He’s doing his thing, trying to win games.”
Baker praised both prospects and in particular raved about Bautista, who hit .333 in 16 games this spring and was involved in a host of notable plays (mostly positive ones, with a couple blunders sprinkled in).
“He did a great job for us,” Baker said of the 24-year-old. “A fine young man. You don’t know he’s around, but he always pays attention. Fundamentally sound. I told him yesterday: ‘Of all the young hitters here, you work on hitting more than anybody.’
“You watch his batting practice, and it’s not slugging practice. It’s batting practice. It’s the first time I’ve seen him, but they said that he’s come a long ways with his stroke. I just told him what I think he needs to work on. He’s definitely on the radar. ... He’s potentially a five-tool player, which is rare today.”