- - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Daniel Murphy was playing against the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series last October when he felt something wasn’t right with his knee.

“This is more significant than I thought,” recalled the 32-year-old slugger, standing in the Nationals’ spring training clubhouse late Tuesday afternoon. “That’s unusual; that probably shouldn’t happen.”

A few days later, the Nationals were eliminated from the postseason, falling 9-8 in a gut-wrenching Game 5 to the Cubs at Nationals Park on Oct. 13.

About a week later, Murphy had microfracture surgery on his right kneecap.

First-year manager Dave Martinez said Tuesday he is encouraged by the progress of his second baseman, but the veteran infielder couldn’t promise he would be ready for Opening Day on March 29 at Cincinnati. The Nationals’ first spring training game is here Friday against the world champion Houston Astros.

“I am generally optimistic when they put me in the lineup I won’t come out,” said Murphy, who hit .322 with 23 homers and 93 RBIs last season. “I am excited about the progress. I think the work has been good. It is a lot of strength (work) in the weight room and getting introduced to some baseball activities.”

Last spring he had less than 10 at bats in spring training while one year with the Mets he said had nearly 100 to lead the Grapefruit League. Murphy has been playing catch and said he was “60 percent weight bearing” on the treadmill Tuesday.

How many at bats does he need to get ready for regular-season play?

“I don’t know. It is always a tough question. It is so much of a feel thing. Probably in between six and 100,” he said, with a grin. “I don’t want to play games and have to stop.”

Murphy feels being reunited with new Washington hitting coach Kevin Long, his former instructor with the New York Mets, could aid his recovery. Long takes over for Rick Schu, the hitting coach the past two seasons.

“I hope so. We speak the same language. I stole his entire language” on launch angles and such, Murphy said. “I hope it does. I am excited about the work he is already doing. He gets you ready for that day.”

The respect is mutual.

“He is very, very intelligent,” Long said of Murphy. “You have to really make sense with what you are talking about. I feel I have impacted some careers in a positive way. I hit it off with Daniel (in New York). We kind of came to common ground on some of our terminology. He wanted to get better.”

Murphy, a World Series star for the Mets, in 2015, is in the final year of a three-year contract he signed with the Nationals prior to the 2016 season. Another more heralded free agent after this season for the Nationals is right fielder Bryce Harper.

“Jesus has taken care of me and my family so far,” said Murphy, a devout Christian. “I don’t know what that will look like (next year). I don’t really think about it. I go out there and play and help us win games.”

Murphy was drafted in the 13th round of the 2006 draft by the New York Mets out of Jacksonville University, where he was the player of the year in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Murphy played two summers for Luray in the Shenandoah Valley Baseball League of Virginia while in college.

“He’s progressing very well,” Martinez said. “He’s got his running progression, he’s doing very well. He’s excited to be here. He got here pretty early. And he wants to be on that field. He wants to be on the field when we start (Grapefruit League play) on (Friday). But we have time. I’m just glad he’s feeling a lot better and he’s getting all his work in. He looks good.”

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