Though they didn’t know for sure when it occurred Friday night, the Nationals feared from the outset Adam Eaton suffered a serious left leg injury when he awkwardly landed on first base and went tumbling to the ground in pain.
Tonight those fears were realized when the Nats learned Eaton has a torn ACL in his left knee, a season-ending injury.
The diagnosis, first reported by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, was confirmed by a club source. Eaton will have surgery in the coming days and likely faces six to eight months of rehab and recovery, making a return before the end of 2017 season all but impossible.
The Nationals did not formally announce the full extent of Eaton’s injury before or after today’s game against the Mets, revealing only that he was being placed on the 10-day disabled list with a left knee strain. They were waiting to get final confirmation of the ACL tear after Eaton underwent an MRI this morning.
The club also was concerned Eaton suffered an ankle injury on the play, but so far no details have been revealed about that.
Eaton was hurt while beating out a grounder to shortstop in the bottom of the ninth Friday night. Lunging to reach first base before Asdrúbal Cabrera’s throw, he hit the front of the bag awkwardly and immediately fell to the ground clutching his left leg.
Two athletic trainers had to carry Eaton back to the dugout, no weight being applied to either of his legs as the crowd watched in stunned silence. The Nationals, who had the bases loaded with nobody out, proceeded to squander the rally and lose 7-5 to the Mets.
The Nationals’ highest-profile acquisition over the winter, Eaton came to D.C. at a steep price, with pitching prospects Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning sent to the White Sox. The 28-year-old center fielder, though, made an immediate and positive impact with his new club, hitting .297 with a .393 on-base percentage, .854 OPS and 24 runs scored in 23 games.
Now the Nats must proceed without Eaton. It’s a significant loss, though possibly not a devastating one given the fact they have another elite leadoff hitter in Trea Turner (who had been batting second) and a deep lineup featuring Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy.
The club will struggle to replace Eaton’s offensive production, though. Michael A. Taylor, who will get the first opportunity to play every day in center field, is an excellent defensive player but entered the day batting .095 (2-for-21) with one walk and nine strikeouts before going 3-for-5 during today’s loss.
The Nationals promoted prospect Rafael Bautista from Triple-A Syracuse this morning to take Eaton’s roster spot, but the organization is reluctant to throw the 24-year-old into the fire yet as a regular starter.
Manager Dusty Baker shot down two other possibilities this morning, saying there’s no consideration right now to moving either Turner or Harper to center field.
Eaton is potentially under team control for four more years at a cost of $34.4 million.