Although he is nearly recovered from an ACL tear, the Washington Nationals are in no rush to play Adam Eaton. A case where prudence is wise.
Eaton, who will play left in 2018, has yet to see any Grapefruit League action. When he will play is known by manager Dave Martinez and, maybe, a few others. With 29 days left until Opening Day, time is on the Nats side.
Washington is right showing caution with Eaton’s injury. Remember the chatter last year about him possibly available if the Nats went to the World Series? That was a bad pipe dream.
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Full recovery from a torn ACL is around a year. Wilson Ramos did not play until July 2017 for Tampa after tearing his in September 2016 at Nationals Park. For Eaton, and his new position, it is best to let the replacement ligaments heal as he restarts full baseball activities.
As Jamal Collier of MLB.com points out, there are plenty of minor-league games soon at the West Palm Beach complex. Eaton can face live pitching and ease back into the outfield.
Once we reach the second half of spring training around March 10, Washington barely leaves West Palm or Jupiter with a rich diet of St. Louis, Miami and Houston games on the schedule. If Eaton hopes to play Opening Day in Cincinnati, you want him in a bulk of those contests.
But, as with Daniel Murphy, the Nats understand baseball seasons are marathons. They must play in October. Although Opening Day is special, it is not vital.
Eaton wants to play now. Yet, he understands the risk of trying too hard early. Remember, even though games have started, the calendar barely flipped to March. If cleared, he will play when the bell rings.
Of all the injured players last year, Washington missed Eaton’s spark most in the playoffs. The month we watched him play underscored the reasons the Nats grabbed him from the Chicago White Sox. He is a spark plug and his desire to win is off the charts.
Martinez thinks the best way to manage those desires is to start Eaton’s season off with ease. With the National League East projected as an easy win, there is no reason to rush players back from last season’s injury barrage. Even Bryce Harper sat this week with an ingrown toenail.
As Collier says, standing for a full game is still uncertain. Then, paired with a new position, feeling out that first run and dive. Milestones soon to cross off his personal checklist.