The Washington Times - April 9, 2011, 06:18PM

NEW YORK — Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche has said from the start that he never expected the pain he felt in his left shoulder, caused by a slight labral tear, would completely go away.

But after fielding a bunt Tuesday night in Florida, LaRoche felt his shoulder ache and the same pain cropped up again Friday afternoon when he went to throw to first after fielding a bunt from the speedy Chin-Lung Hu.

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The pain was enough for him to characterize it as a setback, likening the feeling now more to the way he felt at the start of spring training than the improved way he felt leaving Viera.

He was out of the lineup Saturday night for the Nationals 7:10 game against the Mets — a combination of trying to maintain the pain at a manageable level and the fact that the Nationals were facing a left-handed batter.

“I (told Adam) I want 600 at-bats from you this year,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “There’s going to be an off-day now and again. He’s really gutting it out, and he’s got a sore arm when he’s throwing… This (is) one of the seven or eight days during the course of the year that I don’t start Adam.”

Before this year, LaRoche, a former college pitcher, had never once felt soreness in his shoulder so dealing with the injury is something completely foreign to him. He said he has already “instinctively” changed his throwing motion a little in order to minimize the pain, short-arming throws a little more, and felt that a full day of an ultrasound treatment they’ve been doing on it, along with not throwing, could help him “calm it down.”

“I think I’ve taken a few steps backwards,” LaRoche said. “That’s part of what today is, to try to get it back to where we were at the end (of spring training).”

“Hopefully in the morning it feels a little bit better,” he added. “It’s not going to be a miracle. I’ve got a feeling that it’s probably going to be something I’ve got to deal with for a while. Hopefully we can just calm it down to get through it.”

Surgery during this season has not once been discussed as an option for the first baseman and he doesn’t feel, right now, that a stint on the disabled list will be necessary. If surgery were to happen at all, LaRoche said it would hopefully be an offseason procedure.

“No (DL stint is anticipated),” he said. “Now, that will change if I start feeling it in my swing. Then I’ll be nervous that it’s something I can’t play through. That would be worst-case. If it hurts swinging, that’s not going to be good. It hasn’t gotten to that point. It hurts to throw now and, again, I can’t feel it swinging. Hopefully it stays that way.”

The Nationals lefty-heavy bench means that if Riggleman is giving LaRoche a day off against a left-handed pitcher, Rick Ankiel — or one of the Nationals’ other left-handers, will be in the lineup, as Ankiel is today. The Nationals are still hoping it won’t be an issue most of the time.

“If it was a right-hander pitching today Adam LaRoche would be playing,” Riggleman said. “I would anticipate 90 percent of the time a left-hander’s pitching, LaRoche will be in there.”