Adam Eaton eyes imminent return to the Nationals in first rehab game

There’s an old adage in baseball that goes “the ball always finds you”. Usually it’s reserved for players who aren’t particularly good defenders or who are having a rough go of it in the field.

Friday night at FNB Field, the phrase could have been said for Washington Nationals’ outfielder Adam Eaton playing in his first rehab game for the Senators. It didn’t take long to test out the outfielder’s knee and arthroscopically repaired ankle in the 29-year-old’s first game action since April 8.

Portland leadoff hitter Jeremy Rivera began the game with a lazy fly ball to center field that Eaton settled under for the out. The next batter, Chad De La Guerra, bounced a single up the middle that Eaton fielded cleanly to hold the Sea Dog second baseman to a single.

“It was a productive first day,” Eaton said. “Right off the bat you get two balls to me: one a fly ball, one a hit.”

To start the Senators’ home half of the first, Eaton once again had to test how far he’s come in his recovery. On a 1-2 pitch, he topped the offering in what amounted to a swinging bunt between the pitcher and first base that had him “let it loose down the line”. In his next plate appearance, Eaton walked and ran the bases on a fielder’s choice.

“To get on base and then slide, everything felt great,” Eaton said. “I feel almost normal. I can still tell I had knee surgery, but the ankle isn’t a problem.”

He played five innings in the field and went 0-for-2 with a walk. Eaton isn’t too concerned with the results as the left-handed hitter is using this time to fine-tune his timing at the plate.

“It’s almost like a spring training game,” he said. “I haven’t played in five to six weeks. It’s almost like an off-season. I’m excited for this week of at-bats and to see as many pitches as possible.”

Manager Matt LeCroy said the plan is for Eaton to play six innings on Saturday in left field and seven on Sunday in center field pending the weather the next two days.

“It’s been a humbling experience to get something taken away from you that you’ve really enjoyed for most of your life,” Eaton said. “I’ve learned that family is the most important thing in my life and that this is just a game at the end of the day.

“I’ve learned patience and to not take any day for granted anymore. To put everything I have into this game and let the cards fall where they may.”

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