CHICAGO - Dusty Baker likes to give his starters regular days off, and he likes to give them plenty of advance notice before doing it.
So when today's Nationals lineup was posted and didn't include Daniel Murphy, the immediate assumption was that Baker planned to give his second baseman this game off all along, .406 batting average, 4-for-4 performance on Friday and career numbers versus Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel (6-for-11) notwithstanding.
Turns out Baker never intended to sit Murphy today and would have preferred to have him in the lineup, but couldn't start him after he showed up at Wrigley Field feeling ill. Anthony Rendon also is feeling bad, though he'll be forced to start at third base.
"I wasn't giving (Murphy) a day off today, but he's feeling under the weather, not feeling good," Baker said. "Neither is Rendon. But I don't have enough replacements to give both of them off. I'm hoping that it doesn't go around the club."
Murphy has been perhaps the one consistently productive member of the Nationals lineup to date, even more so than Bryce Harper (who recently went through a 1-for-23 slump). With multiple hits in 14 of his 28 games played, Murphy has remained a force in the heart of the lineup since opening day. And with a pair of four-hit games in the last three days, he didn't exactly seem in need of any time off.
The Nationals still have Murphy available to them if they need a pinch-hitting appearance later, but Baker ideally would like to avoid using him at all. Rendon, meanwhile, will play but has been moved out of his customary No. 2 spot in the lineup and today will bat sixth behind Jayson Werth.
"I moved him down to sixth today just to put a real good hitter in the middle of the lineup, down behind Jayson," Baker said. "Some protection, especially without Murph in the lineup."
With Murphy out and Rendon dropped in the order, shortstop Danny Espinosa has moved up to the second position behind Ben Revere and in front of Harper. It's a bit of an unconventional spot for a .176 hitter, but Espinosa has been getting on base at a relatively decent rate (.301 on-base percentage) thanks to 10 walks and six hit-by-pitches. He also has been able to cut down on his strikeout rate so far this year (21.2 percent, compared to his previous career mark of 27.8 percent).
For now, only Murphy and Rendon are afflicted with the illness within the Nationals clubhouse. Baker really hopes it stays that way.
"Just two guys," he said. "We don't know if it's going around yet. We're trying to stop it from going around."
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