Eaton making progress in rehab
Injury left lineup’s No. 2 spot in flux
Adam Eaton sat in the dugout Sunday with cross-shaped marks on his knees still visible from surgery. They told his current state. After tearing his left ACL, he is out for the season, locked into a long rehabilitation process and trying to enjoy the incremental progress that comes with it.
His injury has had a ripple effect. First, it pulled apart the top of the Nationals’ lineup. Trea Turner and Eaton were beginning to roll together at the start of the lineup when Eaton was hurt running to first base April 29. Nationals manager Dusty Baker tinkered during spring training, putting Turner in leadoff and Eaton second or more toward the bottom of the order, and reversing their spots. Turner’s early season hamstring strain put him on the disabled and Eaton first in the order. After Turner returned, they played together for eight days before Eaton was hurt.
The injury flipped Turner back into the leadoff spot. It put Jayson Werth second. Washington’s offense was on its way to scoring the most runs in the National League even without Eaton. Though Eaton was hurt, Baker still had veteran stability at the top, keeping his 3-4-5 of the order intact with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy providing three spots of consecutive danger. Then, Werth hurt his toe. Since, the No. 2 spot in the order has been in flux. Brian Goodwin, Wilmer Difo, Ryan Raburn and Harper have made appearances. Once the first three did not deliver in the spot, Baker begrudgingly moved Harper up.
“Nothin’,” Baker said of what he liked about Harper hitting second. “It’s the best I can come up with the lineup I had at hand. I’d rather have Jayson Werth
-- it kind of proves how much we miss Werth in the meantime. I’d rather have Bryce three, Murphy four (without Ryan Zimmerman). I didn’t have Werth. Sometimes, it’s the best you can come up with.”
Zimmerman also hurt his back, which caused him to miss four of the last five games. Further complicating Baker’s choices is an injury to Chris Heisey, who could play left field in Werth’s place.
When he was injured, the team announced Eaton’s recovery timeline to be 6-9 months. He is moving around better and can place some weight on his left leg. Most of the time he is still using crutches to help carry the burden during his rehabilitation from ACL reconstruction surgery.
Among the early steps in the recovery process are reactivating the quadriceps muscle, re-establishing full extension of the leg — or hyperextension, if it was in place prior to the injury — then building quad strength and harmony for the muscle to fire when asked. After that, it’s a strengthening progression that allows the leg to carry more weight, move faster and, usually in what has become a commonplace surgery, return to its normal state.
Eaton said he is ahead of schedule to some degree. He already has full extension and has found it odd that he had to retrain his quad to do what was always a normal function because of muscle memory.
“I’ve never had an experience where I’ve told my leg to lift and it doesn’t lift,” Eaton said Sunday. “It’s really a surreal feeling. I have to tell my quad to contract to hold me knee in place. It’s definitely a grind.”
Asked if there was damage to the knee beyond the ACL tear, Eaton became irritated with the question and declined to comment. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo had said previously that surgeons repaired other ligament damage and the meniscus in addition to the ACL.
Eaton chose to do his rehabilitation work around the team. He said he watches a lot of baseball — he doesn’t have much of a choice, at this point — and hopes his presence around the team can be beneficial.
“Just in the sense that I’m dedicated to them, just as they’ve been dedicated to me,” Eaton said.
When the team goes on the road, Eaton continues his rehabilitation work. He said physical therapy and occupational therapy combine to take about 3-4 hours per day, six day per week.
“I think I do a very good job of focusing every single day,” Eaton said. “But, at times my mind wanders about big picture. Not even just this year. Not even just next year. But, the longevity of my career and how it may be shaped with my injury.”
Sitting around has been a new experience for Eaton after being a fleet athlete throughout his life.
“It’s been the experience of a lifetime, hopefully I don’t have to go through it again,” Eaton said.
Baker can say the same.
Washington Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton said he is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from his torn left ACL.