Roark, Murphy return to action, form
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.