WASHINGTON — Adam Eaton doesn’t yet know where he’ll primarily bat in the Nationals lineup, but he and Trea Turner would make for a “deadly combination” at the top of the order, the center fielder says.
“If there’s a chance to hit at the top, I would like to,” Eaton told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan. “And I think that I would be able to do a good job up there, but again, if that’s not the place for me and that’s what needs to happen, then that’s what needs to happen.”
“But Trea or myself are in line with each other,” he said. “I think we’d be a deadly combination. But again, like I’ve mentioned and I’m gonna continue to back it up, whatever the team needs to win.”
Thus far through spring training, Nats manager Dusty Baker has rotated Eaton between the top of the order, batting first or second, and the bottom, batting sixth or seventh. He’s found more success at the top, with on-base percentages of .286 and .235 batting first and second, respectively, as compared to his .176 and .267 on-base percentages batting sixth and seventh.
Eaton says he’ll hit wherever he’s needed, but when you compare his and Turner’s 2016 numbers — Eaton, with a .362 OBP, and Turner, with a .367 OBP out of the lead-off spot — you can begin to picture that deadly combination.
Asked how his approach might change if he were to bat sixth or seventh — spots in the order out of which he’s never before hit in the regular season — Eaton was legitimately flummoxed.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t know yet. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I know that’s kind of scary to say that, but I don’t really know what type of hitter I am in the six or seven hole. I’ve never — you said that I’ve hit in the six hole, but I don’t remember that I’ve hit in the six hole, but apparently I have.”
“Baseball-Reference says only once last year,” Paulsen said. “But you didn’t get an at-bat, it doesn’t look like. You had one game listed sixth on the lineup.”
“Huh. Well, yeah, anyways. I honestly don’t know,” Eaton said. “That’s kind of the difficulty of spring training for me is because I’ve been kind of bouncing around and don’t really know what type of hitter I am in that situation. It seems like that position in the lineup kind of evolves a bit, and like I said, I don’t have much practice in that stance.”
“It’s something that I’m going to continue to work on and hopefully get better at to help this team win, but I would say it’s definitely a different mentality,” he said. “That was the beauty of batting either lead-off or the two hole, there’s definitely a defined appearance, or a defined approach, there that I enjoyed doing my best at and trying to get on for the guys behind me.”
“It’s definitely an important spot that, like I said, I think any competitor enjoys having some stock in them, especially at the top of the lineup,” he said. “But again, this is a very talented team, probably the most the most talented team I’ve ever been on and I’ll do anything to win.
“That’s all I want to do is win.”
Asked what he’s been told by Baker about how he’ll be utilized: “Basically that, just know that there’s gonna be flexibility, like you mentioned, and I guess it’s a credit to me that hopefully I can juggle that. I’ve never really had to do that in my career where, you know, it’s always been one position, here it is, it’s gonna be penciled in, you don’t have to look at the lineup, you know where you’re gonna be-type mentality. But, like I said, hopefully it’s a credit to me that he can move me around in the lineup wherever he sees fit and hopefully I can do a good job at it.”
“It’s definitely going to be a wrinkle in my day to come in and have to see where I am in the lineup and of course have my approach adjust to that,” Eaton added. “But again, hopefully I can do it to the best of my ability, however they see me fit. But his communication has basically been, ‘Hey, we have flexibility and make the most of it,’ so that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Eaton, prior to last season, played the majority of his career in center field, but was moved to right field to make room for Austin Jackson, whom the White Sox signed last spring. He’s excited about returning to center, but spoke with a certain reverence for the game while looking back on how he ended up in right field.
“You know what? I feel, in this game, to play it a long time, there’s only a select few that really get to do the exact same job, hit in the exact same spot their entire career,” Eaton said. “There’s more people like me, and more guys that have to really battle and fit teams’ needs and wherever they need to be fit. For me, I definitely miss center. I enjoyed it.”
“But right field, I go back to the simplicity part,” he said. “Austin Jackson made it easy for me, so I enjoyed right. As simple as I can put it, I felt like — this sounds stupid, but — a dog. I mean, honestly. It was like, ‘Hey Austin, put me in a position.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ And I’m literally just patting my glove waiting for the ball to come out there, and when it was hit, I would go get it and retrieve it, throw it in as quickly as I can.
“It was that simple. Where center field, there’s such a difficulty — knowing the hitters, putting each guy in a certain position and then either being rewarded or not being rewarded for that position of your corner guys.”
“There’s more being into the game and really being focused, like I said, on hitters and pitchers and what they’re doing, and the middle infielders, and your outfielders and their arms, and everyone’s just all involvement that you have to — again — every single pitch really key into to make a play go smoothly as possible,” he said.
“Right field, there wasn’t that. So, again, I enjoyed the right field, but, like I said, I’m excited to have the responsibility back and really be engaged in all facets. Like I said, I’m excited, and like I said, my left and right fielder are going to make that easy on me, so I’m excited about that as well.”