Murphy admits he won’t be ready for opening day

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Daniel Murphy acknowledged what has become obvious over the course of the spring: He won’t be on the Nationals’ active roster to begin the season.

“I think it’s reasonable to expect I won’t be in the opening day lineup,” the veteran second baseman said this morning.

From the day Murphy had microfracture surgery on his right knee in October, the Nationals qualified their timetable for his recovery by saying they were “hopeful” he’d be ready for opening day. And when the 32-year-old reported for spring training without having picked up a bat or jogged on the field, the odds of him progressing rapidly enough to be ready to play March 29 seemed slim.

daniel-murphy-rehab-drills-spring.jpgMurphy has made significant progress since then. He takes batting practice every day with the rest of his teammates on the field. He is now doing some side-to-side movement fielding grounders. But he continues to run only on a treadmill, not on the field.

“I watched him take ground balls yesterday, and he was moving around pretty good,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I think it’s going to depend on his workload moving forward, doing enough work that he’s good, but not doing so much that he’s sore.”

Though the organization’s public stance all spring has been not to rule out Murphy playing opening day, privately club officials have acknowledged for a few weeks that it was highly improbable. Murphy himself was holding out hope early in the rehab process but admits he never knew for sure given how few ballplayers have had this type of surgery, which means there isn’t nearly as standard of a timetable as there is for more common surgeries like knee and elbow reconstructions.

“I think naturally, for any athlete, I’m going to come back later than I wanted to,” Murphy said. “Just as a competitor. But due to the fact that this is the first time I’ve had microfracture surgery, I wasn’t really certain what to expect. I’d talked to other guys who had gone through it, but each individual surgery or injury is unique. So I think whenever I do come back, from my personal prospective it will be later (than hoped), but it doesn’t mean it’ll be wrong.”

There’s a chance Murphy could try to get some at-bats in a minor league game before the big league squad breaks camp Sunday evening, at least giving the coaching staff, front office and trainers an opportunity to see him with their own eyes before they leave town.

They won’t push it beyond what Murphy is ready to do, though. And Murphy himself recognizes how important it is not to try to rush back before he’s 100 percent.

“I don’t want to break (camp with the rest of the team) and get into the lineup and then have to have Davey manage me,” he said. “You don’t want to play with a 24-man roster. So I think anyone, when they’ve had an injury, it would be in their best interest - and I think mine as well - to be almost better than 100 percent, stronger than you were when you went into it. A long-winded way of saying I want to be really strong when I get back.”

Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo figure to both get playing time at second base in Murphy’s absence, with Martinez basing daily lineup decisions on matchups.

“We have guys that can step in,” the manager said. “They’re not Daniel Murphy, per se, but they can do the job, more than adequate.”

Note: The Nationals and Orioles today were named the 2018 recipients of the Baseball Assistance Team’s annual Bobby Murcer Award. The award recognizes a team in each league whose players, managers and coaches pledge to contribute the most amount to B.A.T. during the organization’s annual spring training fundraising tour. B.A.T. raises money to offer assistance to members of the baseball family who are in need of help with financial, psychological or physical burdens. This is the first time the Nats or Orioles have won the award.

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