The Washington Nationals‘ injured center fielder moved slowly into the clubhouse Sunday morning, crutches first, wrapped and booted leg next, a slow way to travel for a sports-car loving speedster known for his frenetic fire.
Adam Eaton, Washington Capitals hat pulled low, slowly neared his locker, before noticing there was no chair in front of it.
“I don’t have a chair,” he laughed, being that he is the only National who desperately needs one these days. Within second, Matt Wieters was lifting one his way.
“What a teammate, giving up his chair,” Eaton said.
“It’s Zim’s,” said Wieters with a smile.
Eaton cannot do much more than sit and watch these days. His teammates cannot do anything more than help out when they can. Eaton sat down and confirmed what Mike Rizzo had announced a few minutes before: Eaton suffered a full-thickness tear of his left anterior cruciate ligament, a torn meniscus, and a high ankle sprain. His surgery has not yet been scheduled, and no clear timetable will be available until it is. But Rizzo admitted that ACL tears normally require six to nine months of rehabilitation. Six months from Sunday would be Oct. 30, during the World Series.
“He’s a huge, impactful player. He impacts us on both sides of the ball. He’s an energy guy. He’s a leader in the clubhouse. He’s a leader in the community,” Rizzo said. ” … and a great defensive player that we’ll be missing from the lineup. It’s a time for people to step up and to perform. I think everybody has to play a little bit better to compensate for Adam not being here.”
Eaton suffered the injury in the ninth inning of Friday night’s loss, trying to beat out an infield single with an ill-fated lunge at first base. He admitted “the game got away from” him a bit in that moment, and that he probably tried to do too much in the context of the situation. But doing too much — or, less subjectively, more than the average player would do in a given situation — is what earned Eaton his reputation in the first place.
The 28-year-old old also has a reputation for toughness and durability, which is why his extended stay on the infield dirt behind first base Friday night seemed to signal so much trouble. Eaton said he heard something pop, and assumed it was his ankle. He stole a peek at his leg to make sure no bones were sticking out. They weren’t, though a broken bone might have healed more easily.
“That’s probably the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” said Eaton, who has never suffered an injury of this magnitude before, and leaned back in his chair as if bracing himself against the realities of rehabbing it for six months or more — or perhaps less, if Eaton has his way. Rizzo called Eaton returning this season “unlikely,” but would not rule it out. Asked if he had ruled it out himself, Eaton was emphatic.
“Heck no!” he said. ” … I’m going to work my butt off and give myself the best case scenario to play. This year would be great, and if that is the case, that means we are playing in October, that is for sure.”
In the meantime, Eaton said he plans to stay around the team, to do his rehab in D.C., and to mentor younger players such as Michael A. Taylor and Rafael Bautista. The former will replace him in the near-term, the latter might play with him down the line. Rizzo said the Nationals will use in-house personnel to replace Eaton on the field, but acknowledged his presence in the clubhouse and beyond will be hard to duplicate.
“He’s a big man in our clubhouse. He’ll be a big man in the dugout, on the flights. And we’ll be with him every step of his rehab process,” Rizzo said. “This guy’s the family for the long term. We’ve got control of him for four years. He’s a guy that’s going to contribute to us not only this year when he’s rehabbing on the disabled list, but for many, many years to come.”
So Eaton is in a holding pattern, waiting for surgery and the additional information it will give him and the Nationals about his future. For now, all he can do is sit and wait and sit some more — provided the Nationals get him a chair.
Trea Turner SS
Jayson Werth LF
Bryce Harper RF
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Daniel Murphy 2B
Anthony Rendon 3B
Michael A. Taylor CF
Matt Wieters C
Joe Ross P
Michael Conforto LF
Jose Reyes SS
Jay Bruce RF
Neil Walker 2B
Curtis Granderson CF
T.J. Rivera 1B
Rene Rivera C
Matt Reynolds 3B
Noah Syndergaard P