ATLANTA - Given what he’s been through in the last 18 months - a torn ACL and sprained ankle, rehab from those injuries, the discovery of further injury to his ankle and rehab from another surgery - you might think Adam Eaton would be taking it easy here as the Nationals’ season winds down.
You would, of course, be wrong. Eaton is playing more regularly now than he did earlier in the season, when the Nats were still in the thick of the race. He has started 17 of the team’s last 20 games, including both ends of a doubleheader earlier this week and then a day game after a late night game this weekend.
Why? Because the 29-year-old outfielder has needed this final stretch to know his surgically repaired left leg indeed has healed and can hold up through the rigors of a baseball season. He couldn’t know that in the spring or early summer. Now he knows, and it’s a significant relief for him.
“I didn’t really see the benefits of it right away, because I felt like crap,” he said. “And then after my ankle surgery, I felt like crap. But I’ve really seen the benefits now in the last month: being able to recover quicker, being able to play back-to-back days and not feel as bad.”
Eaton knew this season would be a grind, even if he didn’t suffer any setbacks. Doctors told him it really takes two years following ACL surgery to feel normal again. And that’s before he had to go back under the knife in May to repair a flap of cartilage in his ankle that was causing pain when he ran.
Now, Eaton is fully healed and fully healthy. And he’s performing well, despite the wear and tear of the season. He hit .311 with a .420 on-base percentage in July, then .299 with a .358 on-base percentage in August. He’s cooled off a bit through the first two weeks of September, batting only .234, but he has still maintained a .357 on-base percentage.
Manager Davey Martinez went out of his way to give Eaton more days off early in the season and coming out of his ankle surgery. He hasn’t felt the need to do the same in the last month, though he does tend to pull him from games late for defense.
“He worked his way back to being almost 100 percent,” Martinez said. “I think this was good for him, to know that he can go out there and compete like he has been. ...
“You watch him the sixth, seventh, eighth inning, he tends to slow down a tad. But all in all, he’s really good and puts together good at-bats.”
On Saturday morning, Eaton will host his annual “Rev Up the Park” event, a charity car show with proceeds benefitting The Dragonfly Foundation supporting pediatric cancer families and patients. He’ll probably have played the night before against the Mets and probably will be playing that night as well.
He wants to push himself through the finish line of the season, then enjoy a normal winter at last and report for spring training ready to be the player he expected to be all along before his first two seasons in Washington were disrupted by a major injury.
“I’m so excited,” he said. “It’s funny, I got four days off for the All-Star break, and I didn’t do anything. And my knee felt amazing. My body felt amazing. It was like I was blooming. Everything felt great. I’m just excited to get a good month off and see how my body reacts to a normal routine. Relax and reset itself. I’m so excited for my swing, for throwing, for defense, everything. I’m excited to have my legs underneath me going forward.”
Update: The Nats pounced on Sean Newcomb today and knocked the Braves lefty out after only three innings. Two two-run homers highlighted the early rally: Bryce Harper’s shot to center field in the first and Anthony Rendon’s looper down the right field line in the third. Harper now has 34 homers, 97 RBIs and 96 runs on the season, which isn’t too shabby for a guy who had the first half he did. Rendon, meanwhile, now has 20 homers and 75 RBIs. Staked to a 5-0 lead, Tanner Roark has been able to go right after Atlanta’s hitters, and he’s been successful. Roark has tossed three scoreless innings on 47 pitches, striking out three (including Freddie Freeman with two on and two out in the third).
Update II: Roark gave up a two-run homer to Tyler Flowers in the bottom of the fourth, but it’s hard to blame him for it. His 3-2 fastball was up and in, not in the strike zone, yet somehow Flowers was able to drive that pitch down the left field line and into the bullpen. You just don’t see many guys do that on a pitch in that location. Nonetheless, it counts, and the Nats’ lead is down to 5-2 after five.