No Washington National wants to put 2017 behind them and get going with the 2018 campaign more than Adam Eaton, the 29-year-old Nationals’ outfielder who suffered a season-ending knee injury in late April.
The injury brought an abrupt end to Eaton’s first run in the nation’s capital following last winter’s 3-for-1 blockbuster trade with the Chicago White Sox.
“It was brutal,” Eaton said of rehabbing and watching as the Nationals took their second consecutive NL East crown, then lost to the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS.
“Worst year of my life, I think it’s really safe to say. Longest summer of my life,” Eaton added, though he said his son and wife, and their families provided all of the support he needed as he rehabbed from a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee and a high ankle sprain in his left leg, which he injured running out a grounder in his 23rd game.
“You really find out through the thick times who’s in your corner and it’s awesome to see,” Eaton said of the support system he had with his family, “as well my teammates.”
“I had great teammates here,” Eaton said.
“Great staff, top to bottom, medical and everybody, so like I said, it really showed me who’s in your corner, again, through tough times — you don’t want to have them, but when you do it’s just nice to have good people in your corner.”
Eaton and the rest of the Nationals will have to get to know a new manager and a few new coaches in 2018, and the outfielder will have to adjust to left field with Michael A. Taylor expected to play center while Bryce Harper handles right field. Martinez said he plans to put Eaton in left and atop the order.
His biggest concern, however, is making sure Eaton’s 100% healthy and ready to go for the start of the season.
“Right now the biggest thing is getting him completely healthy,” Martinez explained when he spoke to reporters at the Winter Meetings.
“He's biting at the bit, he hasn't played in a while, and it's so funny, I talked to him and he said, ‘I'll be ready to go in Spring Training,’ and I said, ‘Hey, hold on a second. I need you to be ready to go Opening Day.’ So we'll take baby steps to get him good, baseball ready, and then we'll go from there. But if he is healthy, of course, he's going to lead off and probably play left field.”
“Left field is definitely less ground to cover,” Eaton said when asked if he was okay with the move to the corner he’s played the least in his six-year major league career.
“I think it’s the most difficult position, honestly. Right is very comfortable, center is very comfortable, but just righty hooks and the way the ball travels from a lefty, and throwing to second base and to home, it’s definitely a tricky position that I’m excited to get after and learn as much as I can. I’ve had a few games over there, but not a lot of time over there.”
Eaton said he also understands his manager’s suggestion to take things slowly and focus on being ready for Opening Day as opposed to the start of Spring Training.
“I want to be ready when everyone else is ready for sure, but again, I just turned 29, so I’m getting a little older, and hopefully that wisdom of being almost 30 will come into play. It’s definitely a balance, but I think he has the right mind frame. But with that being said, I’m going to push it one way or another. I want to be out there with the guys as soon as I can and that’s the plan.”
Martinez is excited about what Eaton will bring to the lineup when is ready to go.
“He’s a competitor,” Martinez said at Nationals WinterFest earlier this month.
“He works great at bats. His on-base percentage is tremendous. He gets on base and anything can happen. To get a guy like that at the top of the lineup makes the rest of the guys go. So, we’re looking forward, and I’m looking forward to having him up there and getting a chance to play every day.”
When he wasn’t able to play every day this past season, Eaton took advantage of the time to get a different perspective on the game, talking to now-former Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker on the bench, and picking up what he could from watching games.
“I had the chance that you don’t usually have from a managerial side,” Eaton said, “or from a coaching side or just an outside perspective. When you’re in the heat of the battle you have your own agenda or you have your own viewpoint, and it might be different from sitting on the bench or being an outsider looking in.
“Definitely learned a lot, numerous things that I’m definitely going to incorporate on and off the field. Maybe how do you react to certain things to how to play a certain ball, there’s so many times, I learned a ton.
“Even sitting at home when I didn’t go on the road, and watching it on TV, hearing the commentators, or hearing the guys afterwards, just trying to learn everything I can and not letting a day go by that I didn’t either learn something or do something productive.”
Eaton was asked if there any movement or exercise he’s looking to do that will let him know he’s back to 100%?
“I’m not really dying to do any of the movements, to be honest with you, but I think... triples are always awesome. It’s funny, I’m taking BP now, and I don’t know why, I always say, ‘Triple!’ when I hit a ball down the line or I’ll hit one in the gap, because I think it’s the most exciting play in baseball, so I think the first day that I hit a triple I’ll have a big old smile on my face, because it’s a hell of a long way to run, especially now with the injury.”