The art of the HBP: White Sox OF Eaton turns pain into success

The art of the HBP: White Sox OF Eaton turns pain into success
March 6, 2014, 1:15 pm
Share This Post

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's the classic mentality for a leadoff hitter: Get on any way you can, and it doesn't matter how.

For Adam Eaton, often times that means absorbing the impact of a 95 mph fastball somewhere on his body.

[RELATED: Danks feels healthy for first time since 2012]

"You name it, I've been hit in the head, shoulder, elbow, knee, thigh, leg, back foot — anything," Eaton said. "Just experiencing that pain but knowing it goes away and you're on base, and you're helping your team win. That just flashes in your mind. I guess that's the art of it, understanding the means and the necessary way to get on base and that kind of overcomes the fear of being hurt.

From his freshman year of college at Miami (Ohio) through the 2013 season split between the majors and minors with Arizona, Eaton has been drilled by 130 pitches in 2,259 trips to the plate — about once every 17 plate appearances. For reference, Craig Biggio — who was beaned more than anyone in MLB history — was hit about one in every 44 plate appearances.

Granted, it's far easier to rack up beanballs at the college and minor league level. But make no mistake, getting on base via the hit by pitch is an important part of his game.

"You gotta get on, can't score unless you're on the pillows," White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson said. "He knows that's part of his game, a high part of his game. And if they have to hit him, they hit him. But he's not looking for it."

[MORE: Chris Sale balancing intensity with spring objectives]

Of course nobody's looking to get hit, but Eaton's found a way to embrace the frequent plunkings. That wasn't always the case — Eaton said it wasn't until his sophomore year of college that he stopped diving out of the way of pitches sailing right at him.

What's helped Eaton is learning how to get hit. He'll try to "find some fat" to cushion the blow by turning away from the ball so it avoids squaring up a bone. He wears a pad on his right elbow now, but in college he initially refused to ("because I thought the elbow pad was kind of the wuss way out of things," he said) and had to have his elbow drained three times.

Eaton's learned to protect his head, too. While playing for High-A Visalia in 2011, Eaton took a pitch off his helmet and missed about three weeks with a concussion. That's one part of his body he won't sacrifice anymore, given the debilitating consequences.

"I don't remember anything after it," Eaton said. "They had to stay up with me that night, I don't remember anything. That was probably the worst."

There's far more to Eaton's offensive game than getting hit — it only represents a small percentage of the times he's been on base in his career. He's adept at working counts and hitting to all fields, the latter of which is why Steverson thinks Eaton gets hit so much.

Those count-working and plate-coverage skills are also why Padres manager Bud Black — who managed against him while Eaton was in Arizona — thinks Eaton can be one of baseball's best leadoff hitters.

"That’s what a leadoff hitter does. They’re gnats," Black said. "They find a way to work the count, work the pitcher and find a way to walk or they get a lot of cheap base hits."

[RELATED: For now, White Sox bullpen running behind schedule]

Or, in Eaton's case, take a pitch when he has to.

The 5-foot-8 Eaton has played the underdog since being picked in the 19th round of the MLB Draft by Arizona in 2010. He's made it to the majors by getting on base however he can.

Though, not everyone is a fan of Eaton's penchant for getting hit.

"My mom cringes, my dad cringes, my wife cringes," Eaton said, "but for me — as much as it sound stupid sometimes — I kind of put team and getting on base before me.

"I feel like you gotta play that way sometimes. Mentally, it's going to hurt, but you gotta get on base."