Nationals 2B Murphy not sure he’ll be ready for opening day

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy isn’t sure his surgically repaired right knee will be ready in time for opening day.

Murphy underwent an operation to repair cartilage shortly after last season, a procedure than included micro-fracture surgery.

”I’m excited about the progress,” he said. ”The work has been good.”

When the knee began bothering him in August, Murphy attributed the issues to normal late-season aches and pains.

That changed during the NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs when his knee buckled once while he was swinging and another time when he fielded a practice grounder between innings.

”I was like, this may be a little bit more significant than I thought,” said Murphy, who can become a free agent after this season.

Doctors told him recovery time would be four to six months, and the 32-year-old Murphy already has full range of motion in his knee. Now he’s working on strengthening the knee.

Murphy ran on the treadmill Tuesday at about 60 percent weight load. He’s also started some baseball activities, taking grounders on his knees and playing catch. He has yet to swing a bat this spring.

If there is a timetable for Murphy’s debut in Grapefruit League games, he wouldn’t divulge it.

”You only want to come off the DL once,” Murphy said. ”I don’t want to start playing games and then have to stop. I think that’s the mindset we’re taking now.”

In years past, Murphy hasn’t needed many at-bats to prepare for the season.

Injuries limited him to 10 spring training at-bats in 2013 and 17 in 2015, seasons when he hit .286 and .281, respectively. Grapefruit League plate appearances were also scare for Murphy last year, when he went hitless in six at-bats as a member of Team USA during the World Baseball Classic and had only a handful more once returning to the Nationals.

He went on to hit .322 with 23 homers and 93 RBIs.

A three-time All-Star who finished second in 2016 NL MVP voting, Murphy didn’t reveal a target number of at-bats he thinks he needs prior to opening day.

”I think I’ve done years where I’ve had 20,” he said. ”I did one year where I think I led the Grapefruit League in at-bats with100. Probably in between six and 100.”

Murphy’s surgery is rare among baseball players, but he is consulting with Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner about what to expect throughout the rehab process.

Turner underwent the same procedure in 2015. He and Murphy were teammates with the New York Mets from 2010-13.

The Nationals took a step forward on another injury front Tuesday when outfielder Adam Eaton participated in live batting practice, which new manager Dave Martinez dubbed ”a good surprise.”

Eaton tore his ACL in April and missed the remainder of the season. The team’s projected leadoff hitter batted .297 in 23 games prior to the injury.

”His progressions are great,” Martinez said. ”He worked out with the outfielders. He felt really a part of the team today, taking BP and everything, so we’ll see where it goes.”

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