In the immediate aftermath of the August 21st trade that sent him to the Chicago Cubs in return for minor league infielder Andruw Monasterio, 33-year-old, now-former Nationals’ second baseman Daniel Murphy was asked how he viewed his two and a half seasons with Washington.
Did the lack of postseason success, with NLDS losses in each of his trips to the postseason with the Nationals, make him view his time in D.C. as a disappointment in the end?
“I feel like other than one team every single year, you can see where it’s a success and missed opportunities,” Murphy said, “other than the team that wins it all.”
“So I feel like my time here has been a success, not only on the field, but the relationships I’ve been able to build with the front office, with the coaching staff, with the training staff, with the players, to me it’s been a success. We haven’t won as many postseason games as we’d like, but we’ve given ourselves a chance the last two years in the postseason.
“I feel like heading into Spring Training that’s every ballclub’s goal and that’s what we accomplished in 2016 and 2017 here.”
Murphy, who signed a 3-year/$37.5M deal with the Nats in January of 2016, put up a gaudy .329/.380/.550 line with 99 doubles and 54 home runs over his 342 games and 1380 plate appearances with the Nationals.
In his first 13 games and 59 PAs with the Cubs before he returned to the nation’s capital for the first time on Thursday night, Murphy went 18 for 57 (.316/.339/.579) with three doubles and four home runs.
Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez, who watched as Murphy torched Chicago during the New York Mets’ sweep in the NLCS in 2015 (9 for 17, .529/.556/1.294, a double, four home runs in four games), talked before tonight’s series opener about how he’d approach facing Murphy now that he was back in an opposing team’s dugout.
“We know that he’s a very good hitter and we know that he does prepare well,” Martinez said.
“So yeah, we’re trying to prepare so when he steps up there [we know] the best way to get him out.”
Asked if he was surprised that his mentor, Joe Maddon, for whom he’d served as a bench coach for ten seasons in Tampa Bay and Chicago, had Murphy leading off for the Cubs, the first-year skipper said it didn’t surprise him at all, though he’d never used him there in the 56 games he penciled Murphy into a lineup this season.
“I’m not surprised, no. He’s a good hitter and he gets on base, and with the lineup they have there that’s where they deem they need him.”
Murphy talked to reporters in D.C. before the game, acknowledging that his return would be emotional.
“There’s definitely emotions,” Murphy said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, before the series opener.
He was asked what sort of reception he expected to get from the fans in Nationals Park, and if he thought he’d receive a warm response, or a standing ovation.
“It would be humbling if they did,” Murphy said. “I never expect to get cheered. You just come out, try to do your job and play as hard as you can. But if there’s applause, then I’d be humbled by it.”
Murphy went 1 for 3 with a single against former teammate Stephen Strasburg, popping up the first time up, striking out in his second plate appearance, and then singling to left field the third time up in the top of the fifth.
He scored to tie things up at 3-3, then flew out to left in his final matchup against Strasburg, before flying out to left in the eighth with two on and two out and Nationals’ left-hander Tim Collins on the mound before he was done for the night in what ended up 6-4 Cubs’ win in extras.
Martinez said he liked how the Nationals handled Murphy in the series opener, but he wasn’t giving away any secrets about what they were trying to do to keep him in check.
“Yeah, I liked it. But he’s a good hitter. I won’t tell you until they leave what we’re trying to do, but he’s good and he’s very competitive and it’s fun to watch,” Martinez told reporters.
Strasburg said he had some good info on to how to attack Murphy.
“He talks a lot about hitting,” Strasburg joked, “so I eavesdropped on him for a few years, so I kind of knew what he was trying to do, and trying to avoid having him barrel the ball, so if I can contain him by having him go the other way, I’m okay with that.”