SAN DIEGO — Adam LaRoche is not a man who bogs himself down in statistics and numbers. He’s about as laid back a guy as you’ll find. And even he knows his own early-season history isn’t very good.
LaRoche is a career .268 hitter. He’s a guy who’s averaged 26 homers, 92 RBI, almost like clockwork in every healthy season he’s played from since 2004.
In April? His career batting average is .219, career slugging percentage .394. A “slow starter,” he’s been dubbed.
“It hasn’t just been April,” LaRoche said Wednesday. “I’ve had some years where it’s two, three months where I’ve (stunk) until I figure it out.”
Until this year, that is. Entering Thursday night’s series finale with the San Diego Padres, LaRoche is hitting .313. One of two Nationals (Jayson Werth is the other) to play in every game this season, LaRoche is leading the team on average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and RBI. Wednesday, in a lineup that has been missing Michael Morse since Day 1 and was also without Ryan Zimmerman, LaRoche went 3-for-4, doubled, walked, drove in a run and scored two.
LaRoche has started 17 of those 18 games. In all but one he’s reached base at least once.
Ian Desmond has gotten out of the gate well, and the numbers for Jayson Werth show a similarly strong start. But on an offense that is missing some of its biggest guns, LaRoche has been invaluable.
“He’s been carrying us,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “He’s really a slow starter so changing that trend has been huge. He’s been a big guy in the lineup.”
For his part, LaRoche said he hasn’t consciously changed anything. Fast start, slow start, he’s been the same guy, the same player. As Desmond put it, “if he was 0-for-50 he’d carry himself the exact same way he does now.” But the results are certainly different.
“I think as a team we’ve got to step up,” he said, asked if he’d felt any greater pressure to do well with some of the Nationals’ big hitters down. “I think, as a whole, I think everybody feels that we’ve got to pick up their slack.”
Trying to do too much, though, LaRoche knows would be a disaster.
“I’ve done it,” he said. “I’ve been in situations where you’re being counted on in the lineup with a guy hurt and you try to do too much. Nothing good comes out of it.”
LaRoche admitted Wednesday that he’s looked at the end of a season and wondered what his already solid offensive numbers would look like if he didn’t start slow. From May through September, LaRoche is a career .280 hitter. And if you looked at just his second-half splits, LaRoche is a career .295 hitter with a .354 on-base percentage and .535 slugging percentage — numbers almost everyone can agree are above-average.
There’s a long way to go. But just like his team, off to a 14-4 start, LaRoche knows it’s better to be the benefactor of a fast start than the alternative. Regardless, it’s maintaining it that matters.
“You’ve got to assume we’re going to hit a skid at some point or another,” LaRoche said, lauding the Nationals’ outstanding pitching staff. “We’re going to hit some skids, eventually, regardless of how good you are. I think we’re a good team, so we’ll keep those to a minimum. Just like really good hitters keep slumps to a minimum, good teams can rebound when they lose three out of four and come back. That’ll be our test. When that day comes, which it absolutely will, can we stay confident?”