NA­TION­ALS

New out­fielder ‘will do any­thing to win’

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

Ea­ton el­e­vated his game in Chicago. He had 52 ex­tra-base hits last sea­son. He was a Gold Glove Award fi­nal­ist in cen­ter field in 2014, then one in right field in 2016. In be­tween, he had a bad de­fen­sive sea­son he largely at­tributes to “flukes.” But, his of­fen­sive num­bers in Chicago were con­sis­tent.

The most piv­otal change came April 9, 2016, when his son, Bray­den, was born.

“I had big peaks and val­leys my first year [in the ma­jors],” Ea­ton said. “My sec­ond year, ac­tu­ally, I had big peaks and val­leys. Still had a de­cent year. But I had a lot of ups and downs. I credit strug­gling early and be­ing able to learn how to be con­sis­tent and try­ing to bring that game ev­ery day, as well as the birth of my son. I give a lot of credit to him. He put life in per­spec­tive. Not ev­ery­thing re­volves around base­ball.

“Base­ball is ab­so­lutely the No. 2 pri­or­ity be­hind my fam­ily. But to come home and be mad about the game and have it last a lit­tle longer than it should, I come home, I see his smil­ing face and I have to change a poopy di­a­per and put him to bed, it kind of puts life in per­spec­tive that base­ball’s all right, it’s go­ing to be there to­mor­row, I’m go­ing to have to go out there and work my butt off to get an­other hit, but re­al­is­ti­cally this is what mat­ters.”

Ea­ton was at din­ner when he found out about the trade to Wash­ing­ton via a text from Chris Ja­cobs, who was the host of “Over­haulin’ ” on Ve­loc­ity, among other TV gigs. Ea­ton didn’t ex­pect to be traded, but he guessed the team’s path when ace Chris Sale was sent to the Bos­ton Red Sox for a flock of prospects. His phone rat­tled with mes­sages from fam­ily shortly af­ter Ja­cobs’ text. The move from Ari­zona to Chicago had changed his ca­reer and life. The next mas­sive shift would oc­cur in Wash­ing­ton.

His ac­qui­si­tion caused a stir. The Na­tion­als needed an­other out­fielder and were of­ten linked to for­mer MVP An­drew McCutchen of the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates, who had a dis­mal sea­son in 2016. In other pur­suits, the club chased two top-tier play­ers, closer Mark Me­lan­con and Sale, and ob­tained nei­ther. On the last day of the Win­ter Meet­ings at Gay­lord Re­sort & Con­ven­tion Cen­ter at Na­tional Har­bor, they worked out a trade for Ea­ton. Tim­ing, pedi­gree and fic­ti­tious rank­ings prompted even for­mer gen­eral man­agers to crit­i­cize the trade. No­table among them was for­mer Na­tion­als GM Jim Bow­den, who pil­lo­ried the deal. Saber­met­rics con­nois­seurs gave it their bless­ing.

Ea­ton is thank­ful for his new spot if un­moved by the chat­ter around the trade’s com­po­nents. He de­liv­ered the stan­dard virtues:

“Dusty [Baker] and I haven’t re­ally sat down,” Ea­ton said. “He needs to tell me where he wants me to play. Be­cause again, the ball club comes first. It doesn’t mat­ter where I want to play. It’s what­ever we need to do win the ball­game. I told him I can do ev­ery­thing but catch. I don’t want to catch. That’s where I draw the line. Those guys take a beat­ing, and I don’t think my knees can take it [Laughs]. But I told him, wher­ever you want me to play, you tell me. I want to win at all costs. Wher­ever in the lineup that may be, let it fly.”

Baker again pro­fessed his de­sire for more speed at the Win­ter Meet­ings and gained it in the trade for Ea­ton, giv­ing the sec­ond-year Na­tion­als man­ager mul­ti­ple lineup op­tions. He could pair the left-handed Ea­ton with right-handed Trea Turner at the top of the lineup. Turner may hit sec­ond to avoid Baker align­ing his team with three con­sec­u­tive left-handed bat­ters, Daniel Mur­phy and Bryce Harper the other left-handed swingers near the start of the lineup. Or, he could split the pair, keep­ing one up top and mov­ing an­other to­ward the bot­tom. One is­sue each car­ries: they strike out a lot. Ea­ton has struck out an av­er­age of 110 times the past three sea­sons. Turner struck out 59 times in 307 at-bats as a rookie.

The start of Ea­ton’s sixth sea­son will oc­cur with his third team. His son will have his first birthday dur­ing Ea­ton’s ini­tial road trip with the Na­tion­als, which will be just a short train ride north to Philadel­phia. For at least the next three years while un­der con­tract with Wash­ing­ton, his per­for­mance will be mea­sured against the re­sults of Gi­olito, Lopez and Dun­ning. Ea­ton doesn’t mind. He’s fo­cused on other things.

Adam Ea­ton knows he is short. He’s also aware of the load of shiny names the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als sent to the Chicago White Sox to ac­quire him, a 5-foot-8 out­fielder with a .771 ca­reer OPS. Lucas Gi­olito, Rey­naldo Lopez, first-round pick, Dane Dun­ning. They are gloss to his matte fin­ish.

“I have to do the small things cor­rectly,” Ea­ton said. “I have to think the game. I have to play the game hard. I have to go out there and want to win at any cost. I’ve played my whole ca­reer as such, and I’ll con­tinue to do that. Hope­fully, peo­ple see me as a player that wants to win and will do any­thing to win and does the small things cor­rectly.”

The Na­tion­als’ new out­fielder — likely cen­ter fielder — was at Wash­ing­ton Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, mak­ing the rounds at Na­tion­als Win­ter­fest last week­end. Ea­ton wore his new jer­sey with the curly W and a red No. 2 on it. The num­ber is a fam­ily one. He wore it in high school. It was worn by his wife, Katie, in high school and col­lege. Even his brother-in­law pulls it on for the Michi­gan State hockey team. Ea­ton wore No. 1 with the Chicago White Sox.

“So, hope­fully my ca­reer will get bet­ter with adding one num­ber,” Ea­ton said.

Life for Ea­ton has taken dra­matic shifts in the last three years. He was a part of a three-team trade in 2013 that moved Mark Trumbo to Ari­zona, Hec­tor San­ti­ago to the Los Angeles An­gels, and “Spanky” Ea­ton to Chicago. He was a part-time player for Ari­zona, at that point, with 335 ca­reer at-bats in two ma­jor-league sea­sons. Not bad for a 19th-round draft pick. Of the 30 play­ers selected in the 19th round in 2010, two have played in the ma­jor leagues: Ea­ton and Ja­Coby Jones. Jones was drafted out of high school and did not sign. He claimed his first 28 ma­jor-league at-bats last sea­son for Detroit.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Re­cently ac­quired out­fielder Adam Ea­ton said he’s will­ing to play any po­si­tion the Na­tion­als want him to, ex­cept catcher.

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