It’s been kind of taken for granted, but given what he went through the last two years, the fact that Adam Eaton started each of the Nationals’ first 16 games this season is quite significant.
Eaton, of course, missed most of 2017 after tearing the ACL in his left knee. Then he missed considerable time early in 2018 after Baltimore foot specialist Lew Schon suspected loose cartilage in the outfielder’s ankle following an awkward slide, a diagnosis that was later confirmed by Green Bay orthopedist Robert Anderson when he performed arthroscopic surgery.
Eaton returned healthy for the second half of the season, but manager Davey Martinez had to monitor his workload the rest of the way, taking the injuries and multiple surgeries into account as he made out his daily lineup card.
With all of that finally behind him, though, Eaton has enjoyed a normal, healthy start to the 2019 season. Five early off-days in the Nationals’ schedule certainly helped, but Martinez still was comfortable writing Eaton into the leadoff spot of his lineup for each of the season’s first 16 games.
Eaton has responded with a .319/.397/.406 offensive slash line to begin the season, plus three stolen bases.
“He’s right now what Adam Eaton was when he was a lot younger,” Martinez said. “He’s moving really well. He’s doing the things he’s capable of doing for us. He’s getting on base for us, getting hits for us, he’s playing good defense. I know he’s feeling good when he’s trying to steal bases. We want to keep Eaton that way.”
Which is why Eaton is finally getting his first day off this afternoon. Facing a quick turnaround from Wednesday night’s game, not to mention a left-hander in the Giants’ Drew Pomeranz, Martinez decided to rest Eaton and give Michael A. Taylor the start in center field, with Victor Robles shifting to right field.
Robles’ health was briefly in question Wednesday night when the rookie crashed hard to the ground after attempting to rob Gerardo Parra of a home run at the left-center field wall. But Robles insisted after the game he was “100 percent fine,” and he reported to the ballpark this morning ready to go.
Robles isn’t just replacing Eaton in right field for the day. He’s also taking over the leadoff spot for this game after exclusively batting ninth to date.
Martinez has been reluctant throughout to move Robles up in the order, not wanting to add any pressure to the 21-year-old’s game. And despite today’s bump to the leadoff spot, Martinez hopes Robles won’t feel any added pressure.
“We don’t want him to change anything,” the manager said. “We had a conversation with him: ‘Hey, continue to do what you’ve been doing. Get on base. Have good at-bats. Don’t try to do too much.’”