Adam Eaton has heard the reactions since he woke up from arthroscopic surgery Thursday in Green Bay and the baseball world was informed of the procedure he had to remove a flap of cartilage from his left ankle. Today, the Nationals outfielder sought to allay fears that came with that news by declaring his goal to return to the active roster in six weeks.
“It’s going to be soon,” Eaton said, seated at his locker with his lower left leg in a cast that was due to be removed later in the day. “I want to push things. We know exactly what’s going on in there now. We have answers. And I’m pumped to get after rehab and strengthen the crap out of this thing and be back for half of the season. That’s my goal, for sure: three months of baseball. Give me enough time to get into the grind of things. I’m excited to get back.”
It needs to be pointed out here that the Nationals have not offered anything close to a firm timetable for Eaton to return, so the six-week proclamation is coming solely from the left fielder. But as he described in more detail than any time since his initial knee and ankle injury more than one year ago, he offered up an optimistic view of things and relief that doctors finally were able to fix what was causing him so much trouble.
When Eaton slammed into first base in awkward fashion and tumbled to the ground April 28, 2017, he not only tore the ACL and meniscus in his knee but also injured his ankle in the process. The Nationals previously downplayed the second part of the injury, with general manager Mike Rizzo saying on the day of the surgery only Eaton’s knee needed to be operated on and that “the ankle is good.”
Today, Eaton revealed for the first time the full extent of his ankle injury, saying he “dislocated that and shattered everything.” Even so, he and the club believed he was fine this spring and needed only to get his knee fully rehabbed before he’d be ready to play.
But as spring training played out, the ankle continued to prevent him from running in a normal fashion.
“As you guys know, I didn’t run well before,” he said. “But it was prettier than I was showing.”
Nonetheless, Eaton opened the season on time and got off to a staggeringly good start at the plate, going 10-for-22 with three doubles, two homers, five RBIs and 10 runs scored in his first six games. Then came an attempt to score from first base on Anthony Rendon’s double April 5, a play that ended with an awkward slide and new pain in his ankle.
Eaton and the Nationals believe he broke scar tissue in his ankle either while running or sliding on that play, an event that immediately left his knee feeling better but opened up the flap of cartilage in his ankle that then caused him significant pain roughly 80 percent of the time he tried to walk or run after it.
After five weeks of rehab for what at the time everyone believed was merely a bone bruise, Eaton finally went to see ankle specialist Robert Anderson in Green Bay, who decided arthroscopic surgery was needed to explore the area and find the source of the pain. Anderson found what Eaton described as “a dime-sized bone flap” that didn’t show up in any of five MRIs because it remained closed except when he was engaged in physical activity.
“It was a bound-down ankle,” Eaton said. “I felt some pain, but it was hurting my knee more than my anything. It was going to happen, one way or the other. And that bone was going to surface, one way or the other. It’s just a tough draw, cause I’ve had it for a year, but that scar tissue protected it.”
Eaton said he expects to begin hitting and throwing within the next week, then ramp up activities from there. If he meets his projected timetable, he’d return sometime around July 1.
“We are now in the best-case possible scenario,” he said. “I have fixed the bone. I have fixed my knee. I feel great. I am so excited. The next six weeks is my plan. The next six weeks to get strong and get ready. I could never be in a better place for me now, mentally and physically. I have answers on both ends, and I’m pumped to rehab and get back.”