Adam Eaton addressed the elephant in the room, although that elephant was in Florida getting ready to begin the season with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Eaton, a Springfield native, is set to begin his third season with the Washington Nationals after he was traded by the Chicago White Sox.
So what will the clubhouse dynamics be without Bryce Harper, who came up to the majors with Washington in May, 2012? Harper signed a 13-year deal as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies earlier this month.
“I have answered those (questions) for a month and a half in spring training so I’m not going to answer them any more,” Eaton said calmly before an exhibition game Monday against the New York Yankees.
Eaton, 30, also hopes to put to rest his health issues after the last two seasons.
The Kenton Ridge High School grad and former Miami University standout played in just 23 games with the Nationals in 2017 when he injured his leg running to first base in late April of that season at Nationals Park.
Last season the lefty hitter played in 95 games and hit .301 with nine steals and five homers. Eaton made an awkward slide into home early in the season against the Mets and eventually went on the disabled list April 11 with a bone bruise in his left ankle.
But he said in spring training in Florida he had a normal offseason and is healthy.
“I’m excited to see him healthy,” Washington general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters recently. “When he’s healthy, I knew the player we were getting. I knew he was an elite player. He was an under-the-radar, under-appreciated elite player. He brought things to the lineup between the lineup that are hard to quantify. He brings stuff in the clubhouse, which is very hard to quantify.”
“We’re just happy to see him back to being himself. A healthy Adam Eaton is a terrific player that is going to help us win a lot of championships,” Rizzo added.
Eaton played 67 games in right and 10 in left last season while Harper played 116 games in right and 63 in center.
A career .287 hitter entering his eighth big-league season, Eaton likely will start in right field on Thursday when the Nationals host the New York Mets to open the season.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez plans to have Eaton bat leadoff and shortstop Trea Turner second to start the season.
“I think there is a lot of talent throughout the lineup. He battles each and every at-bat,” Turner said of Eaton. “He is a tough at-bat. I feel everyone wants to make it tough on the opposing pitcher. You have to deal with the next guy. I get a chance to watch him hit in front of me.”
“I like that combination,” Martinez said.
Eaton spent the offseason with his family at his home in Brighton, Michigan. He made a few trips to Springfield, where his parents and other family members still live.
Then he headed to West Palm Beach, Florida, the spring home of the Nats. They had a successful spring training, finishing 17-12 after Monday’s 5-3 win over the Yankees in the finale at Nationals Park.
“It is good to be back in town. I think people are excited that baseball is back and I think we feel the same,” Eaton said. “I think everybody was ready to break camp about 10 days ago but you know we had to tread water the last couple of days.”
“Opening Day for me is more about my family than anything else,” he added. “No offense to any of the guys here (in the clubhouse) and in the stands. Every day in the big leagues is a blessing. Being on an Opening Day roster is … huge for my wife and I and my mom and dad and my in-laws as well. It is a good time to reflect for all of us.”
Washington won the NL East title in 2017 but the Atlanta Braves captured the division last season, as the Nats dealt with injuries to Eaton and others.
“Hopefully we can learn from our failures and fix it,” he said. “We are going to beat up on each other (in the NL East) quite a bit. What we learned from last year will help us this year. We have guys who are on the same page and want to win. When you have a good clubhouse, good things are going to happen. We have flushed last year. We have learned from it.”
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