Eaton knows he'll have to pick his spots

Adam Eaton will have to decide when to hustle and when to tone down his high-energy style. Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- Adam Eaton cringes at the perception that he is toning down his high-energy style.

It has been hard to deny, though, that subtle changes have occurred ever since he returned a week ago from a strained hamstring.

While some of it has been a concession to the injury he has also realized he needs to be a little more practical, just as Jose Abreu admitted Friday.

So while Abreu wants to make adjustments upon his return to conserve energy for the long season, Eaton has already started with the leg-saving process.

“Yeah, you know what, a lot of the guys have been talking to me, Paul (Konerko) and (Adam Dunn), just little things that I can do to conserve my legs a little better,” Eaton said, aware of the perception that it's the slow guys who are giving him energy advice.

“If you didn’t notice (Wednesday), I grounded out twice and I gave 80 percent or so but I didn’t give my full effort, and that’s (where) you need to conserve your legs. And as much as I hate doing it -- I really do, it’s like pulling teeth for me to not bust down the line -- it’s something I need to do to play 162 games and be in this lineup every day for these guys.”

When it matters, though, Eaton will be going all out.

In the first inning Friday against the New York Yankees, Eaton singled to center field, stole second and scored when Yankees first baseman Kelly Johnson couldn’t handle the throw from across the infield after a ground ball by Dayan Viciedo. The ball barely trickled away from Johnson but Eaton scored anyway.

The hustle was back again in the fourth inning. With runners on first and second, Eaton hit a slow roller toward second base and beat out the play for an infield single. But Eaton’s speed caused Yankees second baseman Brian Roberts to throw the ball away and Alejandro De Aza was able to score from second on the play.

Knowing when to hit top speed, like Eaton did in the fourth inning, and knowing when to back off the throttle is what he will have to balance throughout the season.

“There is a fine line between hitting a 15-hopper to second base and thinking you're really going to beat it out,” manager Robin Ventura said. “But he'll always play hard, I have no doubt about that. You don't want him to foolishly do something, lunge at the bag, try and stretch something out at that he shouldn't. There's just ways to learn how to do that because you're expected to play pretty much every day.”

While players throughout baseball have been known to conserve energy in the outfield, Eaton said he isn’t comfortable with the idea of backing off on defense, even if a ball off the wall will be a double whether he sprints to it or not.

“I will always hustle for my pitchers,” Eaton said. “I don’t ever like jogging out there, I really don’t, because if they see you jogging it just kind of leaves a bad taste in their mouths. I want to get the ball in as quickly as possible, to give wiggle room if my throw isn’t great. But especially in the outfield, I like to get to the ball quickly.”