Eaton on verge of returning to Nationals lineup

Adam Eaton was back at Nationals Park this afternoon. And all signs point to the outfielder being in the Nationals lineup Saturday afternoon.

Eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list today, Eaton remained inactive as he went through a full pregame workout with his teammates before tonight’s series opener against the Giants. But manager Davey Martinez strongly suggested the transaction will happen within the next 18 hours, provided Eaton emerged from the workout in good shape.

“He is very, very, very, very, very close,” Martinez said. “We’re going to talk to him today. ... He’s going to work out with us today, and we’ll see where we’re at.”

Eaton-Runs-Gray-Sidebar.jpgOut since the season’s second week, when a flap of cartilage in his right ankle left over from last year’s surgery came loose and caused pain when he ran, Eaton has been on a fast track to the active roster since having arthroscopic surgery May 10 to repair the issue. The 29-year-old outfielder openly stated he intended to return in six weeks. It looks like he’ll do it in four weeks.

All went well for Eaton during five rehab games over the last week - two with Double-A Harrisburg, one with Single-A Potomac - and he officially was taken off the rehab assignment today after going 3-for-17 with a homer, three RBIs and three walks.

Eaton played center field in two of those games, suggesting the Nationals may seek to play him there when he returns, which would move Michael A. Taylor to the bench and allow 19-year-old left fielder Juan Soto to remain in the lineup. Martinez suggested today all three will remain with the club and potentially share playing time.

“That’s definitely in the conversation,” the manager said. “For me, it’s a really good problem to have. We have a lot of really good outfielders. We’ll sit down and draw up however we want to do this and make sure they all play.”

Reading between the lines, the Nationals don’t intend to play Eaton every day immediately upon his return, perhaps recognizing the need to ease off the gas pedal after he hurt himself only eight games after his return from ACL surgery.

“We definitely need to take care of him,” Martinez said. “Last time, we thought he was OK. Obviously, he wasn’t. So we want to make sure this time we have him for the rest of the season. I talked to him today. He’s excited. I’m excited. He looks great. So we’ll see what happens going forward.”

While Eaton appears ready to return, Daniel Murphy remains on rehab with Harrisburg. The veteran second baseman has played eight games, going 7-for-31 with a homer, six RBIs and four walks, but he continues to look uncomfortable running on his surgically repaired right knee.

Players are permitted only 20 days on a rehab assignment, which means Murphy must be activated by June 15 or else be shut down.

“We’ll have to make a decision,” Martinez said. “Like I said, he’s getting closer. But he still feels it a little bit. So we’ll have to reevaluate. ...

“We want to get him comfortable playing, maybe three, four games in a row. We’ll just see. But he did say he felt better the other day.”

Catcher Matt Wieters, meanwhile, jogged in the outfield today, ramping up his work three weeks removed from hamstring surgery.

“He’s actually doing really, really well,” Martinez said. “But then again, his injury was significant. And he’s a catcher. You just have to stick to the process.”

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