For Adam LaRoche, there was always hope that it wouldn’t come to this.
From spring training when he felt the first twinges of pain in his left shoulder as he’d let a throw loose, through a cortisone shot before the season and even when the pain had escalated to shooting pangs up and down his arm for more than a day after he’d make a simple throw, LaRoche held out hope he wouldn’t need surgery.
Three weeks after the Nationals officially placed him on the disabled list, that was no longer a possibility. Thursday, LaRoche will undergo the first operation of his life when Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih performs surgery on the torn labrum in the first baseman’s left shoulder and effectively ends his 2011 season.
“It was in the back of my mind that this was a possibility,” LaRoche said. “I didn’t want to talk about it because it was something I was hoping would go in the other direction and it didn’t. I’m comfortable we’ve done everything we could possibly do to find out if it needs surgery. I took two weeks of nothing other than rehab, everyday on the shoulder, no hitting, no throwing, came back and tried to do both and it felt the same. When I felt that and was in that position, I knew it was time to get it taken care of.”
The recovery time for the procedure is not exactly known. It will depend on the damage Douoguih finds when he begins the operation. It could range anywhere from four months to seven months but Douoguih, LaRoche and general manager Mike Rizzo felt that LaRoche would be healthy and ready for spring training in 2012.
While it was a resolution, it was a frustrating one for LaRoche, who signed a two-year $16 million deal with a one-year option this offseason, to know he’d be missing almost the entirety of the season. His first year in a Nationals uniform is over, and it comes with an ugly .172 batting average after just 43 games with well-below normal .258 slugging percentage.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “You’re part of something for a while and then the last couple weeks, not playing, I realize I’m still on the roster but you don’t feel like you’re still on the team. As a baseball player, in the game, this is probably the worst news you can hear, that you’ve got a season-ending surgery.”
“It’s disappointing because it negatively affects the ball club,” Rizzo said. “It takes a Gold Glove first-baseman and 25 homers and 80 to 100 RBIs out of your lineup, which will affect any team.”
It was, obviously, the one thing LaRoche and the Nationals were trying to avoid from the start. LaRoche first alerted the team to the pain in spring training. An MRI done then revealed a slight tear and he was told that, along with doing strengthening exercises and getting treatment, he would be able to play through it. He received a cortisone shot just before the season and had never experienced any pain when at the plate but did feel a dearth of his usual strength.
The most recent MRI done on him, LaRoche said, revealed a “very large” tear. It was significantly worse because of playing with it.
“I think everything we did was to try to safely get Adam out there and finish the season,” Dooguih said. “As soon as we recognized that this was something more problematic, we did a standard program – we shut him down, put him on anti-inflammatories, we then progressed to an injection, shut him down after that. We then tried to work him back in. Everything we did was really gradual, textbook.”
That left LaRoche with little regret about the path that was chosen for him.
“I would be (disappointed) if I was stubborn about it and was given advice to either rehab it or go get it taken care of and that wasn’t the case,: he said. “I think it was well worth it, at the time to give it a shot and try to play this season. I told you guys in spring, it hurts to throw, period. But I can live with that if it doesn’t affect my swing, I don’t mind going the whole year with it being painful to throw.
“It started out OK and then that just wasn’t the case. It started affecting me at the plate and that’s when I’ve got to weigh it. Am I really helping this team out by going out there at 50-60 percent, battling an injury? It’s not worth it. I don’t want to get into a situation where I’m cutting into next year and I think a little bit of a blessing catching it early and hopefully by spring training I’m 100 percent again and I can put this behind me.”
In his absence, the Nationals will continue to go with Michael Morse at first base – a position he’s manned exceptionally well since LaRoche was put on the disabled list and he took over the full time role there. Since May 1, Morse is hitting a robust .360 and has continued a personal errorless streak that dates back to 2005.
“It’s too bad,” said right fielder Jayson Werth. “He’s definitely going to be missed for sure. But when him and (Ryan Zimmerman) were out of the lineup, other guys are going to have to pick up. Mikey-Mo (Morse) has been doing a great job over here. He’s really turned first base into his own. Hopefully he can keep it going and keep swinging it and kind of lessen the blow a little bit of losing a player like Adam LaRoche.”