Adam Eaton has returned to form. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

If there is hope for the Washington Nationals, it lies in their veterans, in the guys who have been there before — the tone-setters. Everyone looks for leaders, and sometimes the title is thrust upon those who do not deserve it. But this team needs tone-setters, relentless types with the clout to inspire others. They need people such as Adam Eaton and Ryan Zimmerman, both of whom looked like their old selves Tuesday night. The Nationals desperately need them both.

Both players highlight the complications plaguing the Nationals this season. Eaton seemingly took weeks to find his offensive form, something people in clubhouses always say happens after a big injury — “it’s like he’s going through spring training all over again.” The refrain is used so often it seems almost comical, but it did not materialize from nowhere. As the 2015 Nationals learned when everyone came back from injury around this time of year, some long-injured players do not immediately resume their original form.

Manager Dave Martinez put Zimmerman back in the starting lineup Tuesday because one start at a time is hardly enough time to establish any rhythm, and Zimmerman’s many-levered swing requires more time to sync than most.

But Matt Adams has established himself as a powerful presence in the middle of this lineup, one of the most consistent crushers of right-handed pitching available to them. Playing Zimmerman requires sitting Adams, which means Zimmerman must meet a high production threshold to avoid a figurative quarterback controversy. Zimmerman, who missed nearly two months with an oblique injury, doubled twice and looked in-rhythm at the plate.

Eaton has talked about what Zimmerman’s presence can mean to this team. He is the longest-tenured member of this group, and not exactly one to point fingers or call a teammate out. But he is a veteran presence that can answer for his team’s failings in ways younger players can’t. He also has the potential to slide into a hot streak few players can duplicate. If he does, this offense could jump to life around him.

Eaton, in the meantime, has done his best to bring the offense to life single-handedly. He is the pesky presence this team sorely lacked at times, a guy who plays with relentless, visible energy his teammates notice. When he falls behind in counts, he fouls off pitches. When he fields bunts for his teammates before his batting practice rounds, he bounces around and makes a game of it. And beyond all that, he is now hitting like the player the Nationals traded for in the first place. In 145 at-bats this year, he is hitting .324 with an .826 OPS. In his past seven games, he is hitting .357. As Trea Turner has worked through a season of ups and downs, Eaton has now established himself as the prototype for leadoff hitters, which is exactly what the Nationals hoped he would be when they acquired him before last season.

“I’m still feeling for things,” Eaton said. “I don’t want to be getting lucky and not putting in good work. I want to feel good and get good results. I don’t want to feel okay and get good results, if that makes sense.”

It does make sense, that Eaton wants to avoid using results to tell him how to feel about his at-bats, but rather to feel like himself enough to not worry about results. That he is “still feeling for things” should serve as a reminder of how injuries like his, like the one Zimmerman battled through, such as the one Daniel Murphy is still struggling to come back from, require time. If this team does not play well enough before next week’s trade deadline for General Manager Mike Rizzo to feel justified in acquiring talent, its hope lies in those veterans who have not been themselves early this season. But time is running out, and while the signs are promising for all three players lately, they will need to mount a herculean push to lift this team from its current stupor.


Adam Eaton RF

Anthony Rendon 3B

Bryce Harper CF

Matt Adams 1B

Juan Soto LF

Daniel Murphy 2B

Trea Turner SS

Matt Wieters C

Tanner Roark P


Eric Thames RF

Lorenzo Cain CF

Christian Yelich LF

Jesus Aguilar 1B

Travis Shaw 3B

Tyler Saladino SS

Brad Miller 2B

Manny Pina C

Freddy Peralta P