When the Nationals put together their roster this offseason, they envisioned an infield that featured two talented stalwarts at the corners around their young middle infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa.
With third baseman Ryan Zimmerman out until at least mid-June, that vision took another hit on Monday when first baseman Adam LaRoche was placed on the 15-day disabled list, unable to play through the torn labrum in his left shoulder any longer.
LaRoche will be shut down from all baseball activities for a few weeks and reevaluated to see if the rest will have an impact. At this point, surgery is still not being considered but if the rest – and subsequent attempt to rebuild strength in the shoulder – are ineffective, other options would have to be brought to the table. The first baseman said Sunday that while he does not experience the same pain swinging the bat as he does throwing, he feels a lack of strength in his swing may be related to the tear. The move is retroactive to May 22.
“Adam is basically saying ‘It doesn’t hurt (swinging), but I can’t believe I’m missing these pitches,’” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “’Maybe it’s something there not allowing me to get to the ball’ and so we’ve got to explore that.”
The Nationals will not make a corresponding roster move until Tuesday, at which point they could activating outfielder Rick Ankiel from the disabled list and using internal options at first base in LaRoche’s absence. Ankiel, who sprained his right wrist May 2 against the San Francisco Giants, played in a rehab game with Double-A Harrisburg on Monday night after spending the previous five days in Florida playing in extended spring training games.
The most likely candidate to get the starts at first in LaRoche’s absence is Michael Morse. Morse had been sharing time in left field with Laynce Nix after losing the starting job a few weeks into the season when he was hampered by a sore right knee that caused him to miss a few games, his batting average dipped to .211 to close the month of April and Nix continued to swing a hot bat and perform well defensively.
Morse, who was drafted as a shortstop, has played just 23 career games at first base, but he takes grounders there each day during batting practice and has been an adequate replacement when given the opportunity there this season. Still, it’s impossible for the Nationals not to consider anyone else a downgrade defensively from LaRoche, who has played superb defense at first this season.
“He’s a great defensive first baseman,” said second baseman Danny Espinosa. “Everyone knows that. Any time you lose a defensive guy like that, obviously it’s going to affect you some. When you play with a guy who, you know what he can do, you’re comfortable and you feel like you can throw the ball from wherever. But getting used to someone new is real quick.”
The tear, which was detected in spring training, had only been causing issues with LaRoche’s throws at first base but, with so few difficult throws required of him from that position, he was attempting to play through it. His .172 batting average and drastically low on-base (.288) and slugging (.258) percentages, though, were another issue.
A historically slow starter, much of LaRoche’s early struggles were attributed to his track record but he knew that this felt different than the usual early-season slump.
“I know my body when things are right and when things aren’t right,” he said Sunday. “When I’ve struggled in the past, 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 I said ‘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.”
LaRoche will return to Washington and meet the team when it returns to begin a homestand on Friday.