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Diamondbacks’ Adam Eaton learning lessons in a lost season

The 2012 Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player, Adam Eaton, arrived at Salt River Fields last spring with a slew of expectations.

Just 23 major league games to his name, Eaton was to be the Arizona Diamondbacks’ long-awaited table-setter, the spark-plug at the top of the order who would rile opposing pitchers with a pesky approach. The 24-year-old outfielder would live and die with the drag bunt, the stolen base, the opposite-field slap and the infield single.

At least that’s the way the prophecy went. But it has not come to pass.

In just 64 games with the Diamondbacks this season, Eaton has a .255 batting average and a .301 on-base percentage. He has stolen just five bases, though he has only been caught stealing twice, and he has scored 39 runs.

Of course, Eaton’s season was derailed by an injury to his throwing elbow midway through spring training — an injury that manager Kirk Gibson described on Friday as a kind of awakening for the rookie.

“The injury probably helped him rethink maybe the way he does things,” Gibson said prior to Friday’s series-opener against the Washington Nationals.

Eaton, who is notorious for his intense, all-out style of play, mis-channeled his energy early in his career, according to Gibson.

“Sometimes when you’re young and you’ve been successful, you feel a bit invincible, but nobody is invincible,” the manager, who possessed a similar style of play as a big leaguer himself, explained.

In fact, Eaton’s play, which bordered on kamikaze, was so disconcerting that the Diamondbacks feared injury for their ordained leadoff man prior to his spring training elbow strain.

Since finally joining the Diamondbacks’ active roster back on July 9, just prior to the All-Star break, Eaton has been noticeably more measured in his play, though simultaneously underwhelming in his performance. In particular, the outfielder’s last 23 games have been a far cry from the lofty expectations that were placed on him prior to the season.

Dating back to September 2, Eaton has a .221 batting average and just a .265 on-base percentage — nowhere near a leadoff man’s set of numbers.

Despite his shortcomings, however, Eaton’s manager believes the experience he’s gained and the lessons he’s learned in 2013 is invaluable.

“He did get some good experience,” said Gibson. “That was important. We knew it would be.”

“I think he’s learning every day, every day he plays,” he went on.

When you’re a 24-year-old rookie, there’s always silver lining and there’s always an old adage in the back pocket.

There’s always next year.

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