Fans in the nation’s capital didn’t have much time to get acquainted with Adam Eaton last season, since he played just 23 games before he went down with a season-ending injury.
Eaton did, however, provide a glimpse of what he could bring to the lineup, posting a solid .297/.393/.462 line with seven doubles and two home runs in 107 plate appearances before a “full thickness” ACL tear, a meniscus tear, and a high ankle sprain ended his first season in Washington, D.C. following the much-maligned 3-for-1 deal that sent Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning to the Chicago White Sox and brought him to the Nats during the Winter Meetings in December of 2016.
“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,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told ESPN’s Buster Olney in an interview this Spring.
“He gives you a tough left-handed at bat each and every time up. He sees pitches, 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 missed Adam Eaton down the stretch last year,” Rizzo added. “He gives you those great at bats, and quality at bats.”
Reds manager Bryan Price on Eaton: “What a difference he might’ve made of they’d had him all last year…. They paid a lot to get him. They felt he was a difference-maker. Having him at the top of their order gives them a different look. It lengthens their lineup.”— Jamal Collier (@JamalCollier) March 31, 2018
Eaton started slowly in Spring Training this year, and worked his way back into Grapefruit League action. He ended up getting into seven games this Spring (with plenty of at bats in minor league games), and the 29-year-old outfielder was penciled into the lineup against the Cincinnati Reds on Opening Day, going 1 for 3 with a walk and run scored before he was lifted from what ended up a 2-0 win in the seventh inning.
“We’ve got to monitor him a little bit,” Davey Martinez told reporters when asked about lifting Eaton at that point.
“I felt that was the perfect opportunity to get him out. He’s going to play again tomorrow, so it worked out great.”
“Just excited to be out there, just get going on the right foot,” Eaton said after his first major league game since late April of last season. “The injury is going to be what it is, and just got to keep battling through it, but like I said, just went out there with a good attitude, ready to go, and the staff was with me the whole way, keeping everything turned on and going the right direction, and like I said, it ended well.”
Eaton’s second game back started well too, with a leadoff single and run scored in the first, and just got better, with doubles in each of his next two at bats, and a solo home run in the seventh which left him 4 for 4 with four runs scored to that point.
His fifth trip to the plate in the eighth came with the bases loaded and two out, and Eaton hit a broken-bat, two-run single to center field for his fifth hit of the day, 5 for 5.
That was it for Eaton in Game 2 of 162. His new manager was impressed.
“Just an incredible performance,” Martinez told reporters after the Nationals improved to 2-0 with a 13-7 win. “He’s a spark plug. He gets us going right away, and he works tough at bats. We were making fun of him because we asked him, I said, ‘Why did you slow down? You should have went to third on that one,’ but I’m glad he did.”
“Is it safe to say he’s exceeded expectations through the first two?” a reporter asked.
“You saw,” Martinez said. “But we’re glad to have him back and he’s happy as can be. He’s playing again, and he loves the game, and he’s passionate about it, and he’s doing well.”
Eaton said to be back on the field and off to a good start is all he could ask for considering how far he’s had to come.
“You couldn’t draw it up any better,” he said. “It’s good to have a good set of teammates. The guys that will really rally in my corner and make it a lot easier to go out there and play. [Knowing that the guys] have my back 110% is really an awesome feeling, and even to come in after the game like that today and have a lot of handshakes is, like I said, icing on the cake for me. I’m speechless. These guys really do it for me, so it’s been awesome.”