BALTIMORE — Concerned with a lack of strength in his swing, Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche will see a doctor Sunday night or Monday morning for another look at the torn labrum in his left shoulder.
LaRoche, who has the second worst average in the major leagues at .172, was diagnosed with the tear at the end of spring training but has only really dealt with pain when making throws in the field. He is still not experiencing pain when swinging, but he’s feeling an inability to power the ball the way he normally does, unable to get his top hand to the ball, and it has gone on long enough to prompt some worry.
“I know my body,” he said Sunday before the Nationals’ series finale with the Orioles, a game he was not in the starting lineup for.
“I’ve played long enough to know when I feel good at the plate. Really, for the better part of this year, I’ve felt good at the plate and keep getting the same results. The hardest part is there’s no pain. If there was, it’d be easy to say, this is what’s causing it, this is what’s taking so long, but there’s no pain in swinging but it’s just the fact that there’s no strength there.
“I just cannot get the top hand to the baseball and my strength, my entire career, the only reason I’m here still playing, is because I can hit the fastball well. When I’m right and I’m on time, I know where the ball’s supposed to be and over and over it’s not there — to the point where I just said, you have to trust me on this, something’s not right… I know when I’m on a ball and it should be hammered somewhere and I see it’s just not happening.”
LaRoche is a historically slow starter at the plate so as his batting average continued to tumble early this season it didn’t exactly set off alarms. But with the month of June fast approaching, the time for calling the season “early” is coming to a close. Michael Morse, who got the start at first base in LaRoche’s absence on Sunday, will most likely get the majority of playing time there should LaRoche be out of the lineup for an extended period.
LaRoche’s superb defense at first base has been one of the Nationals brightest spots this season but he’ll be the first to admit that he’s been something of a liability at the plate. In 151 at-bats, LaRoche has just seven extra-base hits and his single Saturday snapped an 0-for-28 stretch.
“I feel like I can help this team defensively right now,” he said. “But there comes a point where I’ve got to weigh it: am I doing more harm than good by not feeling right at the plate? I don’t think I’m doing anybody any favors going out there every night.”
LaRoche is not allowing himself, at this point, to wonder if the doctor will suggest surgery on the shoulder to help him regain his strength. The first steps would be additional physical therapy exercises and rest before surgery is considered.
It’d be easy to dismiss LaRoche’s concern over the lack of strength as a result of his struggles and his numbers at the plate (.172/.288 on-bbase/.258 slugging) but he feels he’s having good at-bats and seeing the ball well at the plate — and his 12 walks in the month of May alone do support that stance.
“When I’ve struggled in the past,” LaRoche said, “I’m not taking walks, I’m swinging at bad pitches, I’m guessing, I’m jumping on the ball. But I’m taking my walks, I’m being selective as far as the pitches I’m swinging at, I’m swinging at pitches that I want to hit.
“Everything I’m doing is what I do when I’m hot and that’s why when I feel like this at the plate and I’m consistently not getting the results, something’s not right. Forget the average. Historically I’ve been here plenty in my career. This doesn’t bother me. I know where I’m at at the end of the year. It’s just the fact that I feel good and it’s not happening.”
The Nationals had yet to decide when LaRoche would see the doctor, Sunday night or Monday morning, but he had every intention of being with the team in Milwaukee on Monday. His hope now is that, whenever the appointment is, he gets some answers and a path toward recovery.
He received a cortisone shot in the shoulder before the season began and has not received a second one but that treatment was meant to help the pain he felt when making throws in the field. Most likely a second cortisone shot would not aid this issue as there isn’t any pain to alleviate. He didn’t rule it out, though, if that’s what the doctor recommends.
“Can it give me the strength I need to strengthen the muscles that are not allowing me to hit the ball?” he said. “What’s what I have to find out from somebody that’s smarter than me. To say, ‘These are the muscles, the ligaments, whatever, that’s not allowing you to get the bat going,’ and then fix that.”
Morse, who has played 22 games at first base in his career, takes grounders at the position every day and, while certainly not the defensive equivalent of LaRoche, would be the Nationals best option in the interim.