Nearly all of Adam Eaton’s tenure with the Nationals has been spent trying to get comfortable, whether that was in the form of assimilating into a new roster and clubhouse last season or twice trying to get back into daily action after missing significant time due to injury.
It’s an ongoing process, but through it all the dynamic outfielder has remained a consistently productive hitter.
Eaton has now played 40 total games for the Nationals the last two seasons combined, with major knee and ankle surgery disrupting his time with the organization. But in those 40 games, he has hit .316 with a .397 on-base percentage and .877 OPS. He has scored 39 runs and driven in 21. And there have been few lulls along the way, no matter his various physical ailments.
After a 2-for-4 showing Tuesday night in the Nats’ 9-7 win over the Orioles, Eaton is hitting .344 with a .403 on-base percentage and .911 OPS this season alone.
And with each passing day, he’s passing another test in his efforts to fully return from his torn ACL and follow-up ankle surgery. He felt like he passed two of them Tuesday night, bunting for a hit and also racing to the wall in right field to attempt to make a catch. (Even though he didn’t haul that play in, he still emerged feeling more confident about his physical state.)
“The bunt today was a big step for me, cause I got to get on it,” Eaton said. “And that ball at the wall was the same thing. I think if I catch that ball, I’m still plastered out on that wall. But you see that I’m going without hesitation, which is good to see. Ankle’s good, and we’re still working on the knee, trying to keep that up to speed. I think you can see how I’m running. The jog’s never going to be good, and the walk’s never going to be good, but at least the sprint’s good.”
In Eaton’s mind, comfort in the outfield has been the last stage of his return. He has felt comfortable at the plate throughout - and based on his numbers, who’s going to argue with that? But he’s still finding his way in the outfield, particularly since moving from left to right field since his most recent return from the DL.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “In the outfield, it’s coming slowly. I didn’t think about how it’s going to take me some time. But just getting the reads off the bat and the communication and the flow of the game. When you play, it’s weird. Sometimes you know the count without even knowing the count. You can feel the at-bat and know how long the guy has been standing there. And I’m still trying to get that back, learning where to play, how to play, leaning, moving and understanding hitters and pitchers and where they’re locating.”