ARLINGTON, Texas — Adam Eaton entered May hitting below the Mendoza line, but since the calendar flipped over he’s looked more like the guy the White Sox figured he'd be when they signed him to a five-year, $23.5 million extension in March.
Since returning to the White Sox lineup May 5 after a nasty bout with the flu, Eaton has a .263/.333/.430 slash line with 10 walks, 20 strikeouts and — somewhat surprisingly — three home runs. There’s still room for improvement for a guy who had a .362 on-base percentage last year, but things are finally starting to normalize for the 26-year-old center fielder.
“I haven’t really done much different besides upping my work load and just trying to swing at strikes,” Eaton said. “That’s the name of the game, if you can swing at strikes and put the ball in play you’re going to be successful so I try to concentrate on that, go up there and have a good, steady approach.”
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Compared to 2014, Eaton in 2015 has swung at a higher percentage of pitches out of the strike zone (up two percent) and fewer pitches in the strike zone (down two percent) while maintaining the same swing rate (43 percent). But he feels those numbers are trending in the right direction recently, and since the White Sox opened a six-game road trip May 11 in Milwaukee he’s hitting .284/.346/.463 over 104 plate appearances.
Eaton hasn’t had a day off in that stretch, and the White Sox are 12-11 in it.
“Definitely the more at-bats you get, the more in-tune you get with the play,” Eaton said. “And the more consecutive games you play in … you can kind of start getting into a rhythm. The more pitching you see, you see pitchers multiple times, it’s only an advantage for you as a hitter. So it’s definitely an advantage the longer the season goes.”
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As has been the case with other slumping White Sox players this year — including Melky Cabrera — manager Robin Ventura has stuck with Eaton atop the lineup based on his ability and track record. While Eaton only has played one full major league season, he did enough in 2014 to convince Ventura his early-season struggles were an aberration and not a sign of a far-reaching problem.
“With his skill-set, being able to put it in play and run, you feel like he’s able to do that,” Ventura said. “You are not feeling like you are stretching too far away of what he can actually do and how he can perform with what his tools are.”