Adam Eaton’s 2015 season could be compartmentalized in three segments: The contract, the T-shirts and the comeback.
The contract got in his head, the T-shirts got his goat and the comeback got the White Sox’ offense to show a pulse.
In his second season as the Sox’ center fielder, Eaton has his batting average up to .269 and his on-base to .346. The 5-8, 185-pound leadoff man has hit for some pop, too, yanking eight home runs and chalking up eight triples and 18 doubles to boost his slugging percentage to .422. It’s been a welcome bounce-back for the Sox, who sputtered offensively while Eaton was hitting .192 with a .241 on-base percentage in April.
“I’m the straw that stirs the drink,’’ Eaton said back then, beating himself up for not being the table setter he had been paid handsomely for when the Sox presented him with a five-year, $23.5 million contract extension (with club options for 2020 and 2021) when he would have playing for the first of his three arbitration-eligible contracts.
Teammates Gordon Beckham and Tyler Flowers heard the comment and schemed to have T-shirts made featuring Eaton’s quote and a sketch of his face with a straw in a martini glass.
Eaton wore it for a short while, and says now the zing from that zinger quickly wore off.
“It was just having fun,’’ Eaton said. “It’s all in good fun. Beck is one of my good friends — and Flow — they were the culprits. They heard it in the interview and thought it would make a good T-shirt. What I said wasn’t negative. I [ital.] want [end ital.] to start things off on the right foot, and being a leadoff hitter you want to set the tone. I had a walk (in a five-run first inning Wedensday) and things started going.
“When I’m struggling I’m not getting anything going. That’s kind of why the offense struggles.’’
The Sox, averaging 3.7 runs per game (29th in the majors), are averaging 6.1 runs over the last 14 games. Eaton is hitting .400 during that stretch and has reached base in 19 of his last 20 games with 22 runs scored. He ranks in the top two in the AL in average and runs scored after the All-Star break.
Acquired from the Diamondbacks two off-seasons ago in a three-team trade that sent left-hander Hector Santiago (a 2015 All-Star) to the Angels, Eaton received his extension during spring training this year and his performance suffered almost immediately in Cactus League games, and it carried over into the regular season.
Eaton points out that he struggled during May of last season (when injuries limited him to 15 games) but “the difference in the second year was I just signed a contract and that weighed on my mind a little bit.’’
“When you sign a contract, for me, you’re supposed to get a hit every time and bat a thousand. You get all this money and you should hit a thousand. It’s just not realistic. It took me a while to figure that out and be loose and play the game.’’
The Sox clubhouse lends itself to playing loose, Eaton said.
“Everything in this clubhouse is all good fun,’’ he said. “You’ve heard the clubhouse banter in here. You hear guys from across the room. You can’t take things personally.’’
WHITE SOX AT ROYALS
Friday: 7:10 p.m., CSN, 670-AM, 1200-AM
John Danks (6-8, 4.80) vs. Edinson Volquez (10-6, 3.20)
Saturday: 6:10 p.m., CSN, 670-AM, 1200-AM
Jeff Samardzija (8-6, 4.35) vs. Jeremy Guthrie (7-7, 5.65)
Sunday: 1:10 p.m., Ch. 9, 670-AM, 1200-AM
Jose Quintana (6-9, 3.50) vs. Danny Duffy (5-5, 4.04)