Murphy keeps on hitting in season’s first week (Nats lose 4-3)

PHILADELPHIA - If this is how Daniel Murphy hits after an abbreviated spring training, imagine how he’d hit had he actually been getting consistent at-bats throughout March.

Daniel-Murphy-gray-follow-through-swing.jpgMurphy ripped a single to right field in his second at-bat this afternoon, extending his hitting streak to six games to open the season and raising his batting average to .522.

Only the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado, the Giants’ Brandon Crawford and the Angels’ Andrelton Simmons have also opened the year with six-game hitting streaks.

Murphy, though, is trying to take this a step further. If he collects another hit in today’s series finale against the Phillies, he’ll have six multi-hit games to open his season, a most impressive feat.

Murphy still has a ways to go to match the modern baseball record of 13 consecutive multi-hit games (set by Rogers Hornsby in 1923), but he is closing in on some rarified air. Only 21 players in modern history have produced multi-hit streaks of at least nine games, only two this century: Bernie Williams (10 games in 2002) and Kevin Youkilis (nine games in 2007).

That Murphy is doing this despite having barely played during a 2 1/2-week hiatus from Nationals camp this spring while in the World Baseball Classic adds to the impressive nature of his performance. He also sat out several days during the final week of the spring with an illness.

The Nationals could use some hits from somebody other than Murphy today, though. Through five innings, he has produced the only hit off Phillies ace Jeremy Hellickson. Adam Eaton, who walked in the top of the fourth, is the only other member of the lineup to reach base.

Stephen Strasburg has pitched well himself, but the Nationals right-hander couldn’t put away a couple batters in the bottom of the second. He walked both Maikel Franco and Andrew Knapp on 3-2 pitches and then surrendered an RBI single to Freddy Galvis on the ninth pitch of a long battle.

Otherwise, Strasburg has excelled, with five strikeouts through four innings. His pitch count stands at 63.

Update: The Nationals trail 3-0 after five innings, but there may be a glimmer of hope after Hellickson was forced out of the game with what appeared to be a blister somewhere on his right hand. The Phillies starter had been cruising, allowing just one hit and one walk through five innings, but he couldn’t complete his warm-up tosses before the sixth and had to depart in favor of reliever Joaquin Benoit.

The Phillies just scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth, two runs that probably shouldn’t have scored at all. Strasburg appeared to be out of the inning when he got César Hernández to hit a grounder to the right side of the infield. But Adam Lind was slow to cover first base, and Murphy hesitated to make his throw, ultimately getting it to Lind a split-second too late. Hernández was safe, and Andrew Knapp crossed the plate with the day’s second run. Howie Kendrick then followed with an RBI double to left-center, putting the Nats in a 3-0 hole and in need of a rally against the Philadelphia bullpen.

Update II: Down to their final out in the ninth, the Nationals were resurrected by Ryan Zimmerman, who launched a three-run, pinch-hit homer deep to left off Jeanmar Gómez. Just like that, this game is tied 3-3 heading to the bottom of the ninth.

Update III: So much for that comeback. Despite Zimmerman’s heroics in the top of the ninth, the Nationals lost this one in the bottom of the ninth when Hernández looped a two-out single to left off Koda Glover, bringing home Daniel Nava with the winning run. Final score: 4-3.

Murphy did not record a second hit today.

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