Roark, Mur­phy re­turn to ac­tion, form

The Washington Post Sunday - - WASHINGTONPOST.COM/SPORTS -

For the past few weeks, Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als Man­ager Dusty Baker wor­ried about Daniel Mur­phy. He wor­ried Mur­phy would not have time to get his swing ready after six at­bats in two-plus weeks in the World Base­ball Clas­sic. He wor­ried he would have to push him too hard, per­haps to the point of risk­ing in­jury, to get Mur­phy the at-bats he needed to be com­fort­able on Open­ing Day. He wor­ried, it seems — at least after the un­trust­wor­thy sam­ple size of one spring train­ing game — a lit­tle too much.

Mur­phy struck out look­ing in his first at-bat in Satur­day’s 4-1 win over Hous­ton at the Ball­park of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Fla. In his sec­ond, he poked a hard ground­ball through the wide-open left side the Astros gave him. In his third, he dou­bled into the right field cor­ner, like he did so of­ten in his im­pres­sive 2016 sea­son. That he struck out twice be­fore day’s end was un­char­ac­ter­is­tic of Mur­phy. But those two hits, and the way he fouled off pitches be­fore those strike­outs, qual­i­fied as clas­sic Mur­phy — at least, the more re­cent ver­sion, which traces its ori­gins to the 2015 play­offs.

“It was good to see Mur­phy back in the lineup. That changes your whole lineup,” Baker said. “Mur­phy even got a cou­ple hits, even though he’s not real sharp. He’s go­ing to get sharp.”

Baker pulled Mur­phy after five in­nings, pre­fer­ring to ease him back into ac­tion the way he did the other reg­u­lars. Those play­ers built up to nine in­nings in about four weeks. After Fri­day, Mur­phy has eight games to do the same, though he said he might play on the mi­nor league side at times this week in or­der to get eight or 10 at-bats with­out hav­ing to play the field.

Tan­ner Roark played the same num­ber of WBC games as Mur­phy. He pitched once in re­lief and did not last two in­nings. He started the semi­fi­nal and pitched four in­nings, held to a 50-pitch pitch count. Baker wor­ried about Roark, too, be­cause while most Na­tion­als starters were push­ing past 70 pitches this past week, Roark had not come close to that num­ber. On Satur­day, he threw 71 and did not al­low a run un­til the last one, when his for­mer WBC team­mate Alex Breg­man scored on a dou­ble by Jose Al­tuve. Roark hit Breg­man in the first in­ning, at which point he heard a fan yell out, “Come on, man! Team USA.”

“I couldn’t help but laugh,” said Roark, who fin­ished after al­low­ing one run on three hits while strik­ing out five in 51/3 in­nings.

“I could ob­vi­ously be a lit­tle more fur­ther along. But I think I’ll be just fine,” Roark said.

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