By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Washington Nationals don’t expect Daniel Murphy to be their savior.
Murphy seized the postseason spotlight for the New York Mets, homering in six straight games on the way to the World Series. But the Nationals are not asking for that. They simply want the player they signed to a $37.5 million, three-year contract to be a consistent hitter as their everyday second baseman.
“The playoffs meant little to me as far as his performance,” general manager Mike Rizzo said at a news conference Thursday at Nationals Park. “I’ve seen him play his whole major league career. … You’re talking about a very sharp player that plays the game the right way and is a winner.”
Murphy won and lost with the Mets in October — from his record home run streak to errors in Games 4 and 5 of the World Series. He hit .529 with four home runs in the NL Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs to be the MVP. The flip side came in the World Series, a .150 average and poor play in the field as the Kansas City Royals won their first championship since 1985.
The 30-year-old Murphy says he has thought a lot about those highs and lows the past couple of months.
“I would’ve preferred to catch that ball in Game 4 and Game 5, but I didn’t,” he said. “I think it’s an opportunity to take a step back in the offseason and realize that there’s work to be done defensively. I also wish I would’ve swung the bat better in the World Series as well, too. It’s an opportunity to reflect and see how I can make quicker adjustments to teams that make adjustments to me.”
Adjustments before and during last season allowed him to hit a career-best 14 home runs. Murphy said he and Mets hitting coach Kevin Long figured out how he can use his legs more in his swing, and by isolating pitches he can be “dangerous” with the bat and not just make contact.
Murphy was plenty dangerous in the playoffs, but that burst was uncharacteristic. Even if Nationals hitting coach Rick Schu helps, Murphy doesn’t consider himself a home-run machine.
“I don’t know if I can keep hitting home runs, but I sure hope so,” said Murphy, a .288 career hitter.
There’s plenty of pop in Washington’s lineup, notably from NL MVP Bryce Harper, whom Murphy referred to as perhaps the game’s best player. But even Harper couldn’t will the Nationals to the playoffs last year when they had World Series expectations.
Murphy surely won’t do that, either. But his ability to get timely hits could play a role in making Washington a contender again.
“He’s a professional hitter — he can hit falling out of bed,” Rizzo said. “When the lights get brighter, he hits better.”
Notes — Rizzo said the Nationals aren’t obligated to trade closer Jonathan Papelbon or former closer Drew Storen before spring training. “If there’s a baseball trade that makes sense for us, we would make it,” Rizzo said. “We’re not going to trade anybody to move a player because we like both of them. We think they’re both talented relievers, and both of them on our team makes our bullpen better.” … Rizzo said infielder Stephen Drew, signed to a one-year contract, can play second base or shortstop and should get at-bats at each position. … The Nationals remain in contact with outfielder Denard Span, but Rizzo said he’s comfortable with Michael Taylor being the center fielder.
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