Murphy on track for Game 1, Scherzer officially named starter

For most of the Nationals roster, which still stands at 40 for now until final decisions are made before Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday, today's workout was an exercise in the routine and mundane. Pitchers fielded bunts. Infielders took grounders. Everybody took batting practice.

For Daniel Murphy, more was at stake.

The Nationals second baseman and MVP candidate hasn't done anything other than pinch-hit since straining a buttocks muscle 2 1/2 weeks ago, but today he took part in most drills during the workout and left club officials optimistic he'll be good to go Friday against the Dodgers.

"I think he's going to be ready for Game 1," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "I feel confident about that."

daniel-murphy-white-batting.pngMurphy, who was not available in the clubhouse during the 30 minutes reporters were there following the workout, was not an entirely full participant on the field. Though he stood at second base along with Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo, he stayed back and didn't take part in the team defensive drills.

Murphy did, however, take ground balls at second. He also took a full round of BP with other members of the starting lineup. And after the workout was over, he performed running drills under the watchful eye of Harvey Sharman, the club's executive director of medical services.

"He looked pretty good," Baker said. "He's come a long ways from where he was."

The plan is for Murphy - last fall's postseason hero for the Mets - to increase his exertion during Wednesday's similar workout at Nationals Park, at which point the team will have the best indication it's going to get about his availability for Game 1.

"You're trying to get his legs strong," Baker said. "And then tomorrow we'll ramp it up some more before we make a true evaluation."

Murphy was hitting a league-leading .348 with a .991 OPS when he injured himself running to second base Sept. 17 in Atlanta. He came up to pinch-hit three times since, each time in situations where there were two outs and nobody on base, minimizing his need to run. Murphy made an out each time, and in the process just missed an opportunity to surpass the Rockies' DJ LeMahieu for the NL batting title.

That's not a lot of prep work for Murphy heading into the postseason, especially when you consider the first pitcher he'll be facing late Friday afternoon: three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.

"Everyone saw what (Murphy) did last year in the postseason," right fielder Bryce Harper said. "Hopefully if we get a little bit of that, it's going to help us out tremendously. Murph has great at-bats, no matter what. He could probably not see a ball for six months, go out there and hit a double right then. His swing's so easy, so fluid. He knows his stuff so well that he doesn't need much. Take three weeks off, face Kershaw. Why not?"

Like Murphy, Harper has been dealing with a nagging injury in the last week (a swollen thumb). Harper participated fully in today's workout, though. So did Jayson Werth, who sat out the regular season's final two games with tightness in his back.

Outfielder Michael A. Taylor was the lone position player not to participate. Taylor is dealing with his own thumb injury, and it does not appear he'll be healed in time for the NLDS (though he probably was a longshot to make the roster even if healthy).

The only pitcher on the active roster who didn't participate in today's workout was Stephen Strasburg, who continues to throw off flat ground in an attempt to return from a strained flexor mass in his elbow at some point before the Nationals' postseason run is over.

The club does not appear to be counting on Strasburg making it back. At the same time, no one is ruling out the possibility, allowing him to continue rehabbing in an attempt to prove he's ready.

"If he's ready to pitch, he will pitch," Rizzo said. "That's as far as I can go with a statement right now. He's in his return-to-throw program right now, and if he's ready to pitch, if we're fortunate enough to get beyond (this round), then he'll pitch."

The Nationals have planned for some time not to have Strasburg at least in the NLDS. Today, Baker made official what everyone had known all along: Max Scherzer will start Game 1.

Baker did not, however, commit to a Game 2 starter, saying only that it's "unsettled." Tanner Roark has been the presumed starter since Strasburg got hurt last month, but it's possible the Nationals could decide to go with Gio Gonzalez at home and save Roark for Game 3 at Dodger Stadium.

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