PITTSBURGH - As much as he wanted to project an air of confidence throughout his first month back in action following major knee surgery, Daniel Murphy knew he couldn't convince people not to believe what they were seeing with their own eyes.
Murphy simply didn't look like himself after finally making his 2018 debut for the Nationals, eight months after having microfracture surgery on his right knee. The quality of his at-bats just weren't close to the standard he established for himself during his first two seasons in Washington, two seasons that firmly established him as one of the best hitters in baseball.
"It's no secret that I haven't really been super productive so far in my at-bats," the veteran second baseman said. "But I'm feeling better, and hopefully I can grind them out myself and do something to help the ballclub each night."
Murphy did plenty to help the Nationals during Tuesday night's 5-1 win over the Pirates. He went 4-for-4. He doubled twice. He had a nice play in the field.
He looked, at last, like the real Daniel Murphy.
"I saw the ball better today," Murphy said. "I think I saw the ball better today than I did yesterday. I think it's a testament to how hard (hitting coaches) Joe Dillon and Kevin Long have been working with me."
Tuesday's game was the peak of Murphy's season to date, but it didn't come out of nowhere. With each passing day, he has put together better-looking at-bats after a dismal return from the disabled list.
In his first 11 games, Murphy went 5-for-37 with one extra-base hit, leaving himself staring up at a .135 batting average. In his last 13 games, he has gone 15-for-43 with four extra-base hits (including his first home run), batting a hefty .349 in the process.
The biggest difference?
"Noticing he's starting to hit velo really good," manager Davey Martinez said. "So that's a good sign."
Indeed, Murphy's final two hits Tuesday night came off fastballs: a 94 mph offering from Pirates left-hander Steven Brault for a single, then a double off a 97-mph heater from right-hander Tyler Glasnow.
For Murphy, there's been no better way to rediscover his swing than to face major league pitching again.
"As much as you think you're going to get ready in Double-A - and it's nothing against the guys in Double-A - the guys are in the big leagues because their balls do things different. And it's not necessarily the velocity. It's the movement and secondary pitches. Hopefully I'm getting more comfortable at the plate, and I'll continue to try to string together good at-bats."