Mike Rizzo: 'We're ready to take on the league'

Chris Lingebach
March 28, 2018 - 6:02 pm
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Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton has had a long road back from a torn ACL, but he's made a full recovery and should be "ready to go" come Opening Day.

"I think he's ready to go," Nats GM Mike Rizzo told The Sports Junkies during his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance (sponsored by Burke & Herbert Bank). You can hear Rizzo on The Junkies each and every Wednesday at 9 a.m. throughout the 2018 season.

"He swang the bat extremely well," Rizzo said. "He took his time the running portion of it, but he was swinging it. He was on the backfields. Got a lot of at-bats on the backfields with our minor-league guys. Ran the bases cautiously at the beginning."

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"I think he had to get over the hump of, internally in his mind, kind of putting the injury behind him," he said. "I think that's really the last stage of his rehabilitation, is when you instinctually make a power move or a break, or an angle and a cut, and you don't think about it. And then after, you just say, 'Well, I think I'm ready to go.' And I think he passed that test."

This season, Eaton transitions to left field -- a position he's played very seldom in his six-year career -- in the wake of Jayson Werth's departure. While Eaton has accepted the challenge, he noted earlier in the spring the position happens to be far more challenging than people understand.

"It's terrible in left. It really is," Eaton told 106.7 The Fan in February. "Left field, you've got to worry about guys that are right-handed hooking the ball. Lefties don't do it too much. You actually have less lefties, of course, in the big leagues, so hooks are so much more difficult to catch. And you've got guys, big ole righties hooking the ball down the line."

Rizzo says Eaton has been settling into the position nicely.

"Made some nice plays in the outfield in left field," he said. "And, don't forget, it's the first time he's ever played left field. And made some really nice plays out there. Getting the hang of it there and moving very, very well. But swang the bat really, really well throughout the spring. We're looking forward to his infusion of energy and grittiness at the top of the order to really work at-bats and to be an offensive presence there for us."

Coming off a surprise career-year in 2017, 33-year-old Ryan Zimmerman completely changed up his routine this spring by taking the majority of his at-bats in minor-league camp. This was by design, with the intention being to limit the workload on his legs while honing his bat in a way only minor-league camp uniquely offers.

"I don't foresee it affecting him at all," Rizzo said. "He's had more at-bats this spring training than he's had in his whole career in spring training. He's had 50 or so at-bats on the minor league side. Moved around very, very well. He wanted to protect himself from overusing his bottom half and his legs. He's prepared. I saw him swinging the bat many, many times on the minor-league side. He's moving around great and he's in terrific shape, and hopefully he'll come out of the chute quickly. He's usually a slow starter, so hopefully he'll come out of the gate a little quicker."

Zimmerman performed brilliantly last season, slashing .303/.358/.573 (.930 OPS) with 108 RBI and a career-high 36 home runs. The only other time he'd crossed the 30-homer threshold was eight years earlier -- during his age-24 season -- when he hit 33 in 2009. It was a welcomed resurgence following a snake-bitten three-year stretch of injuries (2014-16), over which he averaged 90 games-played and batted 38 points below his career average (.280).

"He tried something new this season and hopefully it'll work for him," Rizzo said. "But the fact that he had more at-bats this year than he's had in a long time I think is the difference for me. We saw him play a lot. The only difference is, on the minor-league side, it's a very, very controlled environment where we can do what we want with him. We can stop games if we want. He can lead off every inning if he wants. I think that was more conducive to his preparation, the way he wanted to get ready this season."

Shortstop Trea Turner, who was limited to 98 games last season with a broken wrist, is also expected to return to his old self in 2018.

"He looked great. He's one of those guys that he just needs to be in the lineup," Rizzo said. "When he's healthy, he's a factor, he's an impact player. He's one of the really great players in the league."

READ: Turner Getting Back To Basics At The Plate

After two MLB seasons with 300-plus plate appearances, the jury is still out on which player Turner really is. Is he the .342 hitter Nats fans fell in love with in 2016? Or is his .284 season in 2017 closer to reality?

"Let's not forget he broke his wrist last year and was out for two months," Rizzo reminded. "And you know how those wrists are. Even though he's back playing, you don't have full strength and full movement on those things, and it really affects your offensive output. What he did last year, even though he struggled for a bit offensively, (he) played great defense, still an impact player on offense because he can steal a base or two, and he's a guy that really electrifies the lineup. With he, Eaton, Harper, Zimm, Murph -- when he's back -- it's gonna be a potent lineup and we're ready to take on the league."

Daniel Murphy, who underwent offseason surgery on his right knee in October, only recently began taking swings. On Tuesday, the Nats announced he would open the season on the 10-day disabled list.

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