WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's hard for Adam Eaton to remember a time where he has gone this long without seeing live pitching. He has not stood in a batter's box against an opposing pitcher since April, before he tore his left ACL and began a long rehab.
Once he returns to the batter's box, however, Eaton expects it to be just like riding a bike.
He arrived at the Nationals' Spring Training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla., in the middle of January, much earlier than necessary to escape the cold of Michigan and continue rehabbing his knee. He's continued to clear every step in his rehab process: hitting in the cage, running and taking pain-free reps in the field.
The Nationals plan to slowly ease Eaton into Grapefruit League action, but he is still on track to be ready to go come Opening Day.
"We still have quite a bit of time until Opening Day, and that's been our focus," Eaton said. "Unless something unforeseen happens, I think that's easily attainable."
Happy to be back
After only half a season in Washington, Brandon Kintzler considered returning a "no-brainer." He was comfortable, he had a chance to pitch in the postseason and he already knew everyone's name.
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Kintzler arrived in West Palm Beach after signing a two-year contract during the offseason excited to reunite with the other two members of the bullpen trio, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, that was so successful last season. Although the free-agent market was slow-moving this winter, Kintzler agreed to re-sign with the Nats in December, spurning offers he said he had to serve as the closer for other teams.
"I felt like I had done it," Kintzler said. "I didn't need it. I've already closed. I guess if I'd never closed before and I had a chance to do it, I might've done it. But for a chance, at my age, to play on a World Series contender, and still in a prominent role, that's good enough for me. I got to be an All-Star as a closer. I don't need to do it again. If it happens, it happens. But I didn't need to chase it."
Considering the state of the market -- which Kintzler described as stressful -- he was also happy to get his deal done quickly. He now has some comfort in his role with Washington, slotting in as one of the primary setup men.
"[Returning] means if you have a bad outing in Spring Training, you're not stressed out about it," Kintzler said. "I feel like for the last eight years in Spring Training, I was living and dying with every outing, just to try to get a job or a role. Here, hopefully you just leave the field healthy and just get your work in and get ready to leave. I definitely feel a lot less stress walking into the clubhouse."
The Nationals' first official workout for pitchers and catchers is not until Friday but the team will hold a voluntary workout Thursday. A few of Washington's position players are already in camp, including Eaton, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner and Daniel Murphy.