Adam Eaton's mysterious injury goes from bad to worse, requires arthroscopic surgery

Washington Nationals starting outfielder Adam Eaton underwent arthroscopic surgery on his ankle Thursday per the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes, finally providing some clarity — though certainly not the clarity the Nationals had hoped for — on an injury that had been shrouded in mystery for weeks.

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The background behind Adam Eaton’s injury …

Eaton injured his ankle sliding home on April 5 in the Nationals’ home opener against the Mets, awkwardly catching his ankle on a clump of dirt as he made his way toward home, scoring on the play. Eaton returned to the field the following half-inning but had trouble running and was replaced by Brian Goodwin. Eaton returned and played on both April 7 and April 8, combining to go zero for seven with one hit by pitch.

At that point, the injury was not considered serious, labeled a bone bruise. That news came to the relief of many, because Eaton was coming off a torn ACL that cost him almost all of last year. The days off might even help Eaton strengthen the leg, it was reasoned, and Eaton would be back to the top of the order relatively quickly.

That proved not to be the case. On April 11, Eaton was placed on the 10-day DL. But Eaton has continued to have pain over the past few months, unable to jog or even, at times, walk pain-free, per Janes. He had been in and out of a walking boot, but things simply weren’t progressing as expected. Eaton went to see a specialist in Wisconsin on Wednesday.

What does this mean for Eaton?

There’s no set timetable for Eaton’s return, per Janes, but he is expected back at point this season. He will be immobilized for a week, and then rehabilitation will begin.

The Nationals traded for Eaton in December 2016, dealing elite pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez as well as pitcher Dane Dunning to the White Sox. At the time it was considered a terrific haul for the White Sox, and while Giolito has struggled so far in the majors, Lopez has been outstanding this year. But Eaton immediately showed he was well worth the steep price, slashing .297/.393/.462 in 23 games before tearing his ACL stretching for first base on an infield single.

He returned with a vengeance, slashing .345/.424/.655 in eight games this season. The Nationals were cautious with Eaton, not starting him in two of the nine games in which he was healthy. They also took him out early in five of the seven games he started.

What does this mean for the Nationals?

This surgery is a tough pill for the Nationals to swallow, especially because Eaton has only played in 31 of the team’s 205 games since the organization acquired him from the White Sox. Plus, this was only considered a minor injury at first, though the last month or so has shown that belief was erroneous.

Goodwin, who played a lot last year with Eaton and Bryce Harper both missing extended time, went on the DL on April 17 and has not returned. The Nationals have had to piece together a variety of lineups due to Anthony Rendon’s broken toe (he returned recently) and second baseman Daniel Murphy’s continued rehab from offseason knee surgery. Washington has played Matt Adams — normally a first baseman — in left field. Utilityman Howie Kendrick can also play there, as can reserve outfielders Rafael Bautista, Andrew Stevenson and Moises Sierra.

Eaton’s extended absence also leaves the Nationals without their best traditional leadoff hitter. They recently moved Harper to the leadoff spot and have batted speedy shortstop Trea Turner second and Rendon third.

Adam Eaton’s surgery leaves a hole in the top of the Nationals’ batting order. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Adam Eaton’s surgery leaves a hole in the top of the Nationals’ batting order. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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