The Washington Times - August 19, 2011, 07:42PM

Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche made an appearance in the Nationals clubhouse Friday afternoon, his surgically repaired left shoulder “feeling great,” and his sights set toward spring training 2012.

“It feels good to put some baseball pants on,” LaRoche said as he changed from his street clothes.


It has been officially nine weeks since LaRoche underwent surgery on the torn labrum in his left shoulder and he’s passed his milestones slowly and quietly as the Nationals were forced to move on without him.

“I hit the six-week mark a couple weeks ago,” LaRoche said. “Supposedly that’s when it’s supposed to be settled and everything is kind of anchored down to where I can’t really tear it up again. Then I could start doing a little more light lifting and a lot more shoulder exercises (in therapy) and build on that for a couple of weeks.”

When the team is in town, LaRoche does his physical therapy in the morning and then comes by Nationals Park in the afternoon. He can feel himself getting stronger by the week, he said — so much so that even he can easily be deceived by how good he feels.

“I don’t know if it’s good or bad because I feel good enough to be like, ‘Let me go at least hit or something,’” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen.

“But it feels really good. Really good. I haven’t had a major hangup yet, so I hope that continues.”

LaRoche still has no idea when he might be able to pick up a ball and cleared to start throwing or doing any kind of baseball activities. He’s clearly not coming back for this year so the tendency might be to wait even longer than they would have in-season so as not to chance anything. So while he waits, he’s “a cheerleader,” and mostly, he’s attempting to get used to watching.

“It’s funny how much easier the game looks on TV,” he said. “Now I understand why fans get so mad. They’re probably like, ‘That looked like it was 30 mph right down the middle. How do you swing and miss at that?’ I know after watching every night, it’s a totally different game.”

Before LaRoche ultimately succumbed to the shoulder surgery in mid-June, he was hitting .172 with a .288 on-base percentage and a .258 slugging percentage. His power numbers were down so far from his career norms that he was slugging more than 200 points lower than his career average. Before the 2011 season, LaRoche was a .271 hitter with a .339 on-base percentage and .488 slugging percentage. He averaged 23 homers a year and had an .827 OPS. After his abbreviated 2011 campaign, those numbers are now .267/.337/.478. He hit just seven extra-base hits (three homers and four doubles).

LaRoche’s injury, which had a big hand in his abysmal offensive numbers for the season’s first six weeks, had one positive: it cleared the way for Michael Morse to regain his offensive form and play every day. In his absence, Morse has transformed himself into one of the best players in the National League and a contender for the NL batting title.

“I told him, ‘You owe me a part of next year’s salary,’” LaRoche joked, before expanding on how great it was to see a teammate and friend come into his own the way Morse has this season. Nationals manager Davey Johnson said recently that Morse will most likely get some starts back in left field during the final six weeks of the season in preparation for LaRoche’s return to first next year.

“I told him not to get too comfortable because I’m way too slow to be an outfielder,” LaRoche said. “(But) there’s always somebody waiting behind to take your spot. I don’t care how long you’ve played. Obviously you get a little more leeway the longer you play but it’s nice to have some competition there. Hopefully I can be a lot stronger than I was the last couple years. It’s been a weird year (for everyone offensively). I hope we get it all out this year and have a clean slate next year.”