At this time last year, Adam LaRoche had five hits. He had one home run and it would take him another week before he had his second extra-base hit of the season. He was cheating on fastballs and trying to figure out why his power was simply absent.
Now roughly 10 months removed from surgery to repair a SLAP tear in his left shoulder and coming off a spring training where he played minimally due to a bone bruise in his left foot, LaRoche has been one of the Nationals’ hottest hitters out of the gate.
In the Nationals’ first seven games, LaRoche is 10-for-29 with three extra-base hits, including two home runs. Hitting predominantly out of the cleanup spot, LaRoche has already driven in eight runs and almost all of them have been in key situations.
He has a reputation for being a slow starter. He’s coming off a significant surgery, admits to wondering over the winter if he’d be back to norma. He got just 22 spring at-bats and neither his foot nor his shoulder are totally and completely healed.
“Maybe spring is overrated,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson who, when asked if he noticed anything different about LaRoche as he’s gotten off to a good start, quipped: “Yes. He ain’t struggling.”
LaRoche said his shoulder still isn’t to the point where he doesn’t think about it and the surgery he underwent last year. It still takes him 10-15 throws to feel it start to loosen up before a game, where before it was closer to five, and while he’s happy with how he’s started at the plate, he still feels there’s work to be done.
“I’m not complaining by any means,” LaRoche said. “I’m seeing the ball well, but still working on some things (like) being a little more selective. I think the more at-bats I get and the more comfortable I get, the more confident you get, it all kind of comes together. I’m still going outside the zone a little bit, swinging at some pitches that when I’m really seeing it well I’m probably not chasing. So, all in all good, but still some work to do.”
It’s helped, though, that his results haven’t shown any of that and after so many days last year spent watching helplessly with his arm in a sling, it’s important, from his view, that he’s able to be productive and help in key situations.
“You don’t want to get off to a slow start,” he said. “More importantly it’s helping the team, it’s helping us stay in some of these games and win some of these games. It’s nice to be a part of it.”
LaRoche also said his left foot, which kept him out of the majority of spring training with a bone bruise that caused him pain when making inversion turns on the basepaths, is still also not completely healed. As the Nationals held LaRoche out of most activities this spring, LaRoche chafed a bit. He noted repeatedly that the injury was such that if it was the regular season, he’d surely have been taping it up and playing.
He estimated Friday that he’s at about 80 percent with it, but after about five or six innings he does feel it begin to ache and requires post-game treatment.
“It hasn’t kept me down yet,” he said. “I hope it continues to get better… It’s still there, I can still feel it, but… getting better every day.”
LaRoche’s strong start — coupled with injuries to the team elsewhere — has taken Johnson away from a plan where he was going to platoon LaRoche a bit and get him some days off against left-handed pitching seeing as how he’s coming off two injuries. LaRoche was never all that pleased with that plan.
“We might be by that,” Johnson said. “I’m not saying that I won’t be giving him a day here or there and using Mark DeRosa at first and or Xavier Nady… You try not to get too far ahead of yourself. Players really dictate to you. They’ll dictate to you they need a day off, and you always have backup options for when someone needs a day off. We call it ‘contingency plans.’ But platooning isn’t one of them right now.”