WASHINGTON -- The most noticeable difference in Adam Eaton can be observed as he walks around the clubhouse and on the field. The visible limp and hesitation that accompanied his every move during the start of the season is now gone. It has been replaced by a bounce in his step and an excitement that came after his left ankle surgery last month. He seems to have found an answer to his issues.
Eaton was activated from the disabled list Saturday, leading off and playing right field in the Nationals' 7-5 win over the Giants at Nationals Park. He was sidelined for 51 games after being placed on the disabled list on April 11.
In his first at-bat back off the DL, Eaton was hit by a pitch before he came around to score a run on Anthony Rendon's single, continuing his role as the team's spark. He finished the day 1-for-4 with two runs scored.
"We didn't really waste any time getting on base and was able to have some fun out there," Eaton said. "I got to third base in my second at-bat and asked how I felt, and I said, 'Well, I'm about at Round 6 with Mike Tyson.' I feel like I was so tired. … The knee reacted really well."
Eaton had played in eight games to start the season and exceeded all expectations, slashing .345/.424/.655 and scoring 10 runs in his first action in nearly a year after he tore his left ACL. In between his stellar play, however, Eaton was clearly not 100 percent, limping around the field and trying to preserve his leg however he could. Now, as he returns from the DL once again, he feels better than ever to start the season.
"My leg's in such a better place right now," Eaton said. "Moving around a little more smoothly and whatnot. It's a world of difference."
To clear space for Eaton on the roster, the Nationals optioned right-hander Wander Suero to Triple-A Syracuse and released outfielder Rafael Bautista. To make room for Eaton in the crowded outfield, Bryce Harper shifted from right field to center on Saturday, while rookie phenom Juan Soto remained in left.
The Nationals now have a bit of a logjam in the outfield with Eaton, Harper, Soto and Michael A. Taylor all vying for at-bats. Manager Dave Martinez reiterated that it was a "good problem to have" and that he could manage playing time for each player. Eaton played center field during his rehab assignment, and he says he feels comfortable there. Harper was "all in" on playing center when Martinez brought the idea to him.
Taylor will get his chances to play as well, especially considering the club wants to ease Eaton back into action this time around and give regular breaks to Harper and Soto.
"We'll see how this all works out and how it transpires," Martinez said. "We'll just have to keep working on different things and different situations and know that you're all going to get to play a lot. And you're all also going to get days off."
The Nationals are hopeful that this time, Eaton is coming off the disabled list for good.
Eaton played in five Minor League rehab games, and he said he was even tempted to steal a base -- something he would not have even dreamed of attempting at the start of the season. It has only been about a month since his surgery -- which was mostly to clean up the scar tissue in his left ankle -- but now that it's complete, Eaton is moving around around much more freely and naturally.
"With every step early on, I felt something, and I had to think about moving," Eaton said. "Now I'll go a few steps without feeling it, and I don't have to think about moving as much."