Eaton had missed 52 games after sustaining an injury to his left ankle and undergoing surgery. He started and played right field.
“It’s good to be back. I’m excited,” Eaton said. “I feel, really, way better than I did the first go-around. I’m excited to be back out there. My wife is excited for me to go back to work. My kids as well, get me out of the house and play the game that I love. Hopefully, I can contribute right off the bat.”
Eaton understands that he will not play every day, but expects to play today and tomorrow.
“I know they are going to take their time with me a little bit,” Eaton said. “Hopefully, they let me kind of hit the ground running, so to speak, and get out there as much as I can.”
Eaton realized during his rehab that he was feeling no pain and was able to start and stop with no issues, which was a better feeling than he had at the start of the season, when he was coming off the knee and ankle injuries he had last year.
“I attempted to steal a base in my rehab stint,” Eaton said. “So that was big. I wouldn’t even have imagined to do that in early April, so I guess that I’m happy that it’s becoming more natural for me. I’m excited that it feels much better.”
Nats manager Davey Martinez said he explained to Eaton how careful the teams wants to be with him in this second attempt at a return.
“I did talk to Adam and I said ‘Look, you are going to get your days off too’,” Martinez said. “We want to keep you healthy throughout the year and have you for the whole year. We’ll just have to keep working on different things and different situations and know that you are all going to get to play a lot, and you are also going to get days off.”
Martinez shuffled the lineup a bit, placing Eaton in the leadoff spot, Trea Turner second, and Bryce Harper third. More interesting might be the placement of Harper in center field and Eaton in right field. Harper played in 92 games in center field in 2012, but usually in right field since.
“You know, we tossed and turned about doing different things,” Martinez said. “Adam’s a really good right fielder, I’ve known that. I talked to Bryce about playing center, and he was all in, excited about it. I said ‘Why not? Let them go out there and have some fun.’ Gio (Gonzalez) is pitching, which, typically, the ball is on the ground.”
Harper played center field in high school, Martinez noted. “For me, center field is the easiest place to play as an outfielder. I mean the balls coming right at you. When I talked to him about it he actually mentioned it. That he sees the ball a lot better when he plays center. So, I said ‘Let’s do it.’ He’s taken some balls there before. I think he’s going to be fine.”
As for the offense coming from the outfield positions, Martinez likes the prospect of Juan Soto, Harper and Eaton all batting from the left side.
“It’s nice to get those three left-handed bats in the lineup. Juan is doing awesome. It’s hard to sit him down right now, it really is. He’s hitting left-handed, right-handed pitching. He’s doing well. He’s going to get the opportunity to play, and we’ll figure out as the days go on. It’s a good problem to have.”
And then there is the logjam created with Eaton back and likely to get at least some starts in center field, where Michael A. Taylor has played the entire season. Despite a slow start at the plate, Taylor has been hot recently, hitting .296 in his last 15 games.
“I talked to Michael, and he’s going to play too,” Martinez said. “I’m not going to sit Michael down. It’s nice to give him a day off today, but he’ll be back in there tomorrow.”
Update: Eaton made his presence felt with a walk and run scored in the first. Anthony Rendon’s RBI single to center field provided the Nats with a 1-0 lead. Nats lead 1-0 mid-second.
Update III: Nick Hundley got the Giants right back in the game with a three-run homer on an 0-2 Gio Gonzalez offering in the third. The towering homer went over the left-center field wall, his seventh of the season. Mid-third, the Nats lead 5-3.
Update IV: Gonzalez walked two more in the fourth. He also allowed a single by Alen Hanson. An Andrew McCutchen RBI sac fly got the Giants within one run. After the second walk, he was lifted, finishing 3 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on six hits with four walks and three strikeouts. He had to throw 97 pitches, 55 for strikes. Mid-fourth, the Nats lead the Giants 5-4.
Update V: Bryce Harper slammed his 19th homer of the season, a solo shot in the fourth. The blast came on a 0-1 pitch off of Giants reliever Ty Blach. After four innings, the Nats lead 6-4.
Update VI: The Giants got closer thanks to a RBI double by Hundley off of reliever Ryan Madson. But Madson was able to strike out two to get out of the jam. Mid-seventh, the Nats lead 6-5.
Update VII: Spencer Kieboom added an RBI double in the seventh. Nats lead 7-5.
Update VIII: Sean Doolittle got three outs, bridging the eighth to the ninth, but then Mac Williamson singled. Pinch-hitter Hunter Pence struck out swinging to end the game. It was Doolittle’s 16th save.
Final Score: Nats 7, Giants 5.