WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- With eight days to go until the regular season begins, Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy has increased the intensity of his baseball activity. He is now moving laterally when fielding grounders, has increased his workload while hitting and has introduced some new strength exercises to his knee. His running is limited to the treadmill, but overall, Murphy is happy with the progress he has made since undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee in October.
But before the Nationals' 8-3 loss to the Astros on Wednesday, Murphy said what has been apparent for a while now, that it is "reasonable to expect" he will not be in the lineup for the Nationals' season opener next Thursday against the Reds in Cincinnati.
"I think the nature of our sport is that once you start, the games come fast and furious," Murphy said. "I don't want to break [camp] and get into the lineup and then have to have [manager Dave Martinez] manage me. You don't want to play with a 24-man roster.
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"So I think anyone, when they've had an injury, it would be in their best interest, and I think mine as well, to be almost better than 100 percent, stronger than you were when you went into it. A long-winded way of saying, I want to be really strong when I get back."
Even though the Nationals initially expressed confidence that Murphy could be ready for Opening Day, that he is destined to begin the season on the disabled list is not a shocker. The timetable for his recovery is approximately 4-6 months, so he was always going to be pushing a tight window to get himself ready.
The Nationals have also been careful not to rush Murphy throughout the entire process. Both he and the Nats have repeated the desire not to risk a setback once he returns to the lineup. Martinez watched Murphy field grounders this week and was so impressed with how he moved around that Washington has even considered perhaps getting him some at-bats in a Minor League game before the team breaks camp Sunday. But for now, the Nationals want him to focus on building strength.
"We want him to be 100 percent healthy and ready," Martinez said. "We don't want him to come back and play three days, and if his knee swells up he can't play for two. We want him to be comfortable out there, and make sure when he joins us he's ready to play every day."
The Nationals can afford to take their time with Murphy in part because they have viable options to replace him at second base. Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo will each get their share of playing time in Murphy's absence.
"We have guys that can step in," Martinez said. "They're not Daniel Murphy, per se, but they can do the job, more than adequately. … We're going to miss [Murphy] for sure, but with those guys in the lineup, we're going to be fine."
Benoit to start season on DL
Right-hander Joaquin Benoit has a strained right forearm, Martinez revealed Wednesday, which will force Benoit to begin the season on the disabled list. The veteran right-hander has not appeared in a Grapefruit League game since March 13, and is currently shut down after undergoing an MRI.
"We're going to be relatively slow," Martinez said. "He's an older guy, so we have to make sure he's good."
Benoit, 40, was a late signing by the Nationals this offseason, about one week into the start of Spring Training. He had scuffled in three outings this spring and surrendered three runs on five hits in three innings.
Benoit was slated to replace the open bullpen slot created by a right shoulder injury to right-hander Koda Glover, but it now appears Benoit's injury opens up another spot in the Nationals' bullpen. Perhaps that role could go to right-handers Trevor Gott or Austin Adams, who have had solid springs, or the Nats could use the vacancy to keep one of their left-handers who are out of options, such as Enny Romero or Matt Grace.
"We've got options. We haven't decided yet whether we want to keep a guy that can give us [multiple] innings or someone that can step up and just give us one inning," Martinez said. "As we get closer to the end, we'll figure those things out."
The Nationals travel to Port St. Lucie, Fla., for a matchup against the Mets on Thursday night at 6:10 p.m. ET, live on MLB.TV. Right-hander Tanner Roark will be on the mound, with Adam Eaton scheduled to play his second consecutive game in left field. Anthony Rendon is expected to start at third base.