WASHINGTON -- Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton is walking around with a slight limp but a huge smile on his face. Gone is the scooter he needed to get around the Nationals' clubhouse for most of the summer, or the need for crutches.
It's been about eight months since Eaton underwent ACL surgery on his left knee, which cut his first season in Washington short, and he is excited to begin to feel normal again. The hours of rehab and physical therapy took their toll on Eaton as he was reduced to a spectator and cheerleader after tearing his ACL lunging for first base on April 28.
"It was brutal," Eaton said. "The worst year of my life, I think it's safe to say. The longest summer of my life."
That has made Eaton even more eager to get back on the field. By the time Spring Training rolls around he expects to be able to run, cut and play without restrictions.
Eaton has spent the offseason focusing on some of the other areas of his body he feels he has neglected a bit since the knee injury.
"I want to be ready coming in," he said. "I'm going down pretty early, get some extra treatment and some extra focus. But everything's going really well, and I'm pretty happy where I'm at for the offseason with my knee, and really my whole body."
Eaton could represent a big acquisition for the Nationals this season even though he was their major move last year. He played in just 23 games with Washington before the injury, but the Nats received a glimpse of the spark he is capable of providing. He hit .297/.393/.462 in the limited action and was a catalyst at the top of the lineup.
"He looks great," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "He's [champing] at the bit. The biggest thing to kind of get him to realize is that, hey, we want him ready for Opening Day. He's going to get opportunities to play in Spring Training a lot, but we want him ready for Opening Day."
Martinez said he envisions Eaton as the leadoff hitter, although Martinez acknowledged that he plans to test out a number of lineups during Spring Training.
The Nationals plan to move Eaton to left field in favor of leaving Michael A. Taylor in center field, where he was a National League Gold Glove Award finalist in 2017. Eaton's addition to the lineup should serve as an upgrade over last year's everyday left fielder, Jayson Werth. Eaton and Taylor alongside Bryce Harper in right field could give the Nationals one of the best outfields in baseball next season.
Eaton has less experience in left field than the other two outfield positions, having played just 42 games there. While Eaton said he would be OK with a switch, he did call left field the most difficult outfield position to cover.
"It's a lot less room to cover," Eaton said. "I'm going to be looking at Michael for a lot of help, with a healthy knee or without a healthy knee. He runs like a deer, and I'm excited to run alongside him. He's a heck of a center fielder. I think we're going to have a really good outfield. An outfield that can run and can throw and we're going to constantly communicate. And hopefully be one of the best outfields out there.
"That's going to be our goal. I definitely think it's reachable this year. Bryce is a very good athlete. Michael can go get it. And hopefully I can scrape together the rest. Left field is definitely less ground to cover. I'm excited to get after it and learn as much as I can. I've had a few games over there, but not a lot of time over there. I'm looking forward to the challenge."