WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Nationals insist Adam Eaton remains on track to be ready for Opening Day, but they’re practicing caution as the left fielder leaps over the final hurdles after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last April. Despite taking part in nearly every drill with teammates since the start of camp, Eaton hasn’t appeared in a game. The Nationals aren’t rushing it.
“No specific date,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “He’s just working on his progression, and he’s coming along. He looks good. We just don’t want to push him. Our biggest thing is to get him ready for Opening Day, and that’s what we’re shooting for.”
Two weeks into spring training, Eaton has done nearly everything but play in a game. On Tuesday morning, before the Nationals faced the Marlins, Eaton participated in defensive drills in the backfields with his teammates. He took batting practice and then he took live batting practice. But he didn’t follow his teammates onto the field at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
“If I get into a game today, is that going to help us get to Opening Day? Probably not,” Eaton said. “We’re going to take it and be methodical and do it right the first time and make sure I’m overcooked, so to speak, before I go out there.”
Eaton said he isn’t worried about accumulating enough at-bats — he pointed out he had five in live batting practice before meeting with reporters Tuesday. The biggest challenge, he proposed, could be just standing for nine innings and getting into the rhythm of games. Before that, he and the club want to ensure he is ready for game intensity.
“I can go like 60, 70 percent in all my drills and make sure I’m getting the fundamental stuff down,” he said. “But, again, you go 70 to 100 [percent], that’s a big difference. That’s the steppingstone I guess, so to speak.”
As for Daniel Murphy, who is behind Eaton’s timeline, Martinez said the all-star second baseman has progressed but is still limited to running.
“He’s doing a little bit more, but it’s more doing his progression running and getting his strength back in his leg,” Martinez said. “But he’s coming along really well, too. I talked to him this morning and he said he feels great. Once again, we’re going to just take our time and make sure he’s fully ready.”
• Gio Gonzalez tossed 27 pitches — 16 for strikes — across two scoreless innings in his spring debut against the Marlins on Tuesday at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The first inning had a familiar feel. As he routinely did last season, Gonzalez found himself in a two-out game after surrendering a single and a walk, and he escaped it. The left-hander then retired the Marlins in order in the second inning to conclude his outing.
“I felt good,” Gonzalez said. “The ball was coming out of my hand pretty good. The first inning was just trying to get a timing rhythm going again. The second inning was going after hitters.”
Martinez said the club wants Gonzalez to focus on working quickly. The rationale is if he works quickly, Gonzalez has less time to think, which is when he throws more strikes.
“He knows for him it’s [important] to avoid that big inning and just work on strikes,” Martinez said. “The way to do that is just limit damage. If a guy gets on, just don’t worry about it. Just limit the damage. Know you’ve got seven guys behind you that can catch the ball.”
• Bryce Harper collected his first hit of the spring Tuesday with a double into the left field corner. He later advanced to third base and tagged up from third base to score on a sac fly. The game ended in a 2-2 tie after nine inning.
• Matt Adams, Washington’s projected backup first baseman, was scratched from Tuesday’s lineup because of a blister on his right foot. Martinez said Adams won’t play at least the next couple days.
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