Daniel Murphy hobbled into his scheduled interview session on crutches and said made sure everyone knew he’s already begun walking. He’s learned a lot about the microfracture surgery performed on his right knee on Oct. 20, eight days after the Nationals ended their season with another first-round playoff exit in the National League Division Series.
He’s not sure if the injury was the result of overuse or just an acute condition. And despite general manager Mike Rizzo’s assurances at the Winter Meetings that his second baseman would be ready to play by opening day, Murphy seems uncomfortable with setting any hard and firm timelines for his recovery.
“I think any athlete wants to be healthy,” Murphy said at Nationals Winterfest on Saturday. “And I think you want to be healthy, you want to be able to do things. You kind of take for granted being able to walk and being able to pick up your children because I haven’t been really able to do that over the last eight weeks. But I think also I’ve had people who are really, really smart in the industry say, ‘You’re going to be healthy if you treat this the right way, if you’re sensible about it.’ So that’s the goal right now. Just to be smart with it. I’ll be ready to play when it tells me I’m ready to play.”
Spring training starts in mid-February, with Grapefruit League games following in late February to accommodate a March 29 start to the major league season. Murphy is aware of the important dates looming on the calendar, but he’s not in a rush to set a recovery schedule because he just won’t know how the knee reacts until he gets a chance to test it.
“It’s going to be a progression,” he said. “I don’t want to put any timetables on it because if you miss ‘em, you guys get really fishy when stuff like that happens. I think right now, Harvey Sharman was able to come down to Jacksonville, our head trainer, and take a look at my knee. Said it’s in really good position right now, being eight weeks in. So I was really pleased to hear that, kind of a validation of some of the work that I’ve done and my family, some of the sacrifices they’ve made with me not being able to move. And so we’ll see how we go moving forward.”
Murphy noticed the issue when it cropped up during the NLDS loss to the Braves, but wasn’t sure if it was just the culmination of a season of normal wear and tear or something more serious that needed attention.
“Something’s going to probably need to get looked at the end of the season,” he remembered thinking. “But it wasn’t anything I felt that was lingering or really I didn’t feel like had any impact on my game. Tough to say whether it did or not. It just kind of felt like the normal aches and pains of a season. I didn’t really think it would be this significant, once they got the MRI.”
Once the doctors had completed their diagnostic work, Murphy was scheduled for surgery.
“They called it a cartilage debridement and a microfracture surgery,” Murphy said. “So from my understanding, I think I had a crack in my cartilage. They were able to remove some of the, what it sounds like, compromised cartilage. Microfracture to help the healing. And begin the rehab process.
Basketball players like Greg Oden and Amar’e Stoudemire and football stars like Reggie Bush and Marques Colson have undergone microfracture surgery with a wide range of results. But the procedure, during which tiny fractures are created in underlying bone to develop new cartilage, is relatively uncommon in baseball players.
One of Murphy’s contemporaries who has undergone microfracture surgery and flourished is Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, whose procedure was performed in November 2016. Last season, Turner slashed .322/.415/.530 with 21 homers and 71 RBIs in helping the Dodgers to the World Series. His on-base percentage and OPS numbers were career highs.
“We talked a little bit in passing about how he felt and some of the things he felt leading into the surgery,” Murphy said. “What little we have spoken, he’s given me a ton of assurances that if we’re sensible about this and treat it the right way, it should hopefully be healthy.”