Eaton's primary goal: Put the ball in play

Eaton's primary goal: Put the ball in play

OAKLAND -- White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson considers Adam Eaton "a contact guy."

That characterization might surprise a few people when looking at the leadoff man's 139 strikeouts over 689 plate appearances last season.

"I'll take him at the plate, runner at third, less than two outs and the game on the line," Steverson said. "I know he can put the ball in play and use the whole field and still hit a home run. He's at the top of the list to get up with guys in scoring position."

Eaton backed up that point during Monday's 4-3 season-opening victory over the A's at the Coliseum, driving in Austin Jackson with the team's first run of the 2016 season via his triple, the team's first hit. Jackson drew a one-out walk from Oakland lefty Rich Hill and raced around to third on an errant pickoff throw.

Eaton's RBI triple

On a 2-1 curve, Eaton laced a shot over the head of center fielder Billy Burns. He scored on Jimmy Rollins' single to right, as the lefty-lefty solid connection sparked a four-run outburst

Making contact in those situations stands as a basic '16 goal for Eaton, who was upset about his previous strikeout total.

"As a leadoff hitter, I want to put the ball in play as much as I can and put pressure on people," Eaton said. "Even if I tip it or hit a one-hopper over the pitcher, those are hits there. There are forced errors or what not there.

"If I can put the ball in play more often, good things happen. I've learned from that. I've learned what those holes are and how I can improve."

Even with the swings and misses, Eaton proved to be a potent run producer. He finished with a career-high 14 home runs, 56 RBIs and 51 extra-base hits after not driving in a run until May 11, along with a .269 average and 37 RBIs with runners in scoring position and a .319 mark with 47 RBIs with men on base.

"I love situational hitting. I love to succeed in it. It bugs me when I don't," Eaton said. "I understand how to go about that in certain situations, outs, counts, whose behind me, in front of me. Putting the ball in play needs to be one of my strengths."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.