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Washington Nationals’ Adam Eaton close to returning in Grapefruit League action...

Adam Eaton played just 23 games before he suffered a season-ending injury last April. He’s close to returning to live action in Grapefruit League games, and determined to be ready for the Nationals’ season opener later this month...

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

While Washington Nationals’ outfielder Adam Eaton has yet to make his 2018 Grapefruit League debut, the 29-year-old, who suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee and a high ankle sprain in his left leg lunging toward first base while running out a ground ball late last April, has seen action on the back fields of the Nationals’ Spring Training facilities in West Palm Beach, FL.

“He’s getting very close. He’s itching to play in some games,” Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez told reporters, as quoted by Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes last week, when asked about Eaton’s progress this Spring.

“He’s actually gotten at-bats in the minor leagues. He’s doing really well. He’s looking good. … Hopefully we’ll see him in games here real soon.”

Eaton, acquired from the Chicago White Sox in a 3-for-1 trade in December of 2016, was just 23 games and 107 plate appearances into the 2017 campaign when he suffered the season-ending injury. He did, however, provide a glimpse of what he could bring to the Nationals’ lineup, posting a .297/.393/.462 line over the first month of the season, which was in keeping with the .290/.362/.422 line he put up over his three seasons in Chicago.

In an interview at WinterFest this past December, Eaton explained that he understood the goal wasn’t to be ready to go at the start of Spring Training, but on Opening Day.

Washington Nationals Photo Day Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“I want to be ready when everyone else is ready for sure,” Eaton said, “... 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.”

Eaton and his new manager had discussed the goal of getting the outfielder ready for the start of the regular season, as much as he was itching to just get back in and start playing games again right away.

“It’s definitely a balance, but I think he has the right mind frame,” Eaton said of Martinez.

“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.”

In an interview with ESPN’s Buster Olney on Monday, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo, who took a lot of flak for what he gave up in the trade with the White Sox (top pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, and 2016 Draft pick Dane Dunning), talked about Easton’s progress as he ramps up for an eventual return to the lineup in big league action.

“He’s coming along great,” Rizzo said.

“Anybody who was watching us early on in the season [in 2017], that first month of the season the lineup was dynamic and electric when he was at the top of it. He gives you a tough left-handed at bat each and every time up. He sees pitchers, he grinds guys down. He’s an on-base percentage guy. He can steal you a base. Terrific going first to third, a great baserunner, a super defender in the corner [outfield spots] and capable of playing the middle, and is a guy that’s an energy bunny with a little edge to him, a little chip on his shoulder. We were missing that when he went out. Michael [A.] Taylor filled in admirably for him, and he’s kind of a tool-box player himself that’s coming into his own, but we missed Adam Eaton down the stretch last year. He gives you those great at bats, and quality at bats.”

“He’s coming along well,” Rizzo reiterated. “He’s playing some games on the back minor league fields. We’re monitoring him, obviously, we’re not going to rush him, and we’ll soon get him into some big league games, but the knee and the ankle, which was an issue also when he hurt himself last year, are coming along and we think that he’s 100% and we’re anticipating for him to start the season with us.”

Eaton is expected to lead off for the Nationals, and play left field, with Taylor in center and Bryce Harper in right field. It’s an impressive outfield if the three of them can stay healthy, and the Nats have some depth too with Brian Goodwin the likely fourth outfielder, Andrew Stevenson continuing to impress when given opportunities, and top prospects like Victor Robles knocking on the door, while Juan Soto, the No. 2 ranked outfielder on most lists of the Nationals’ top prospects, is considered by some scouts a higher-ceiling prospect than even Robles.

Will we get a full season of Eaton in 2018, and see why it was that the Nationals’ talent evaluators were willing to give up what they did to acquire him last winter?