CHICAGO — After Adam LaRoche left Wrigley Field Thursday night and met up with his family following an 0-for-3 performance with three strikeouts (and a pivotal walk), he had to face his toughest critic.
His nine-year-old son Drake walked right up to him and said “Dad, what were you doing?”
“I said, ‘Drake, you’re exactly right.’”
LaRoche, a historically slow starter who spent much of 2011 out of commission and got just a handful of spring training at-bats due a bone bruise in his left foot, came out on Saturday and went 4-for-5 with a three singles and a two-run home run.
“It’s just funny that kids don’t care what they say,” LaRoche said. “If he thinks it, he’s going to say it. That was the first thing when I stepped out of here. ‘Dad, what were you doing today?’ So I had to laugh at that.”
But he admitted the words hit home.
LaRoche felt like he wasn’t seeing the ball well at all on Thursday and that left him guessing early and often. It was a habit he got into in 2011, too, when the torn labrum in his left shoulder sapped most of his power and forced him to try and muscle up early in his swing. He had no explanation for why he could see the ball better on Saturday than Thursday (“I don’t know,” he said. “But I can do that with the best of them.”) but wasn’t about to argue.
Another thing the labrum injury did was take away swings like the one LaRoche put on Matt Garza’s 2-2 pitch in the fourth inning Saturday.
He’d seen four pitches in the at-bat before Garza served up the 95-mph fastball that LaRoche clanked off the right field foul pole, half-way up the marker 353 feet away. He watched three pitches go by: a curveball in the dirt for ball one, a fastball for strike one, and a changeup for ball two. He fouled off another changeup before Garza opted to go back to the fastball and LaRoche mashed it.
The at-bat was a good one, but the power alone was an encouraging sign for LaRoche.
“I don’t know that I could have got to that last year,” LaRoche said. “There were a lot of pitches, even when I was feeling really good last year, a lot of pitches I felt like I should have killed. I would just miss them. I’d foul them back or fly out. I was not able to get the bat head to it. I’ve been feeling a lot better this year.
“It’s nice to know. I felt it in spring training. I felt it in batting practice. I could feel it in games. I wasn’t having to cheat as much. I was able to sit back and see it a little longer. I kind of knew in camp it was gone and feeling good. But obviously, it feels good.