VIERA, Fla.— Situated between the locker of two former nemeses, Anthony Rendon to the left and Ryan Zimmerman to the right, Daniel Murphy began to settle in Sunday at Space Coast Stadium.
A red Washington Nationals jersey has replaced the blue and orange one he wore last season, when the New York Mets snatched the National League East from the favored Nationals. Afterward, Murphy was signed in the offseason by the Nationals to a three-year, $37.5 million contract. He’s expected to be the starting second baseman.
Before reporting to spring training, Murphy spoke with new Nationals manager Dusty Baker on the phone. Baker was impressed because Murphy expressed a willingness to play and hit wherever Baker preferred.
“I think coming into it, the understanding is this is about winning baseball games,” Murphy said. “How can we do that as a group, collectively? I’m going to do whatever I’m told. I’ve always felt that if you get to the end of a season and you accomplish all the goals that you set as a team and individually it’s going to look the way you want to. That ends up being a secondary aspect, I think, of the season. Whatever Dusty wants to do as far as positioning, batting order and all that stuff, he’s putting in a lot of work and we get to do the fun part, which is go play.”
Murphy will be part of reconfigured middle infield for the Nationals. The trade of Yunel Escobar and departure of longtime shortstop Ian Desmond — who still does not have a summer home — opened the middle for Murphy, rookie Trea Turner and Danny Espinosa.
The priority for Murphy is contact hitting. His defense has been well below average throughout his career, no matter which position he has played. But, at the plate, he’s a career .288 hitter who picks up a hit more than twice as often as he strikes out.
The Nationals were in pursuit of better contact hitters in the offseason. Washington scored the third-most runs in the NL last year, despite being second in strikeouts.
Baker explained his ideal No. 2 hitter on Sunday, mentioning bat control, someone who will take a pitch to allow the leadoff man to run, and other attributes that sounded like Murphy was someone who could fit the role. Washington will want to split left-handed Bryce Harper and Murphy, which it could do with Murphy hitting second and Harper batting in his preferred cleanup spot.
On Sunday, Murphy lauded the relationships he built in New York, the only place he’s played in the major leagues. He also realized he’s now on the flipside of the Nationals/Mets rivalry.
“I think experiencing this rivalry over the last couple years, it’s gotten very exciting and heated at times,” Murphy said. “I think that’s what makes for a good rivalry.”
• Todd Dybas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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