The Washington Times - February 20, 2012, 05:49PM

VIERA, Fla. — Adam LaRoche made his first appearance in the Nationals’ clubhouse Monday morning and spent just a few minutes unpacking before he and his surgically repaired left shoulder left to go hit. 

It was a good sign for LaRoche that he was able to get right to work after arriving in Viera, but he didn’t dance around the health of his labrum.


“Honestly, I wouldn’t even say it’s there yet, as far as 100 percent,” LaRoche said. “But it was during the first couple weeks of hitting (this offseason) when I started getting excited, like ‘OK, this is turning out to be really good, it feels really good.’ I have every hope that by the end of camp it’s going to be really good swinging and I think throwing will eventually come.”

For LaRoche, the pain was never present when he swung. When he threw, though, it’d resonate for two or three days. Still, while it didn’t hurt for LaRoche to hit, the SLAP tear certainly hurt his hitting. LaRoche tried for 43 games to prove that he could survive the throwing pain if only he could hit. But what the absence of pain was masking was the absence of strength. In May, with a .178 average and .258 slugging percentage, LaRoche succumbed to surgery.

His throwing isn’t back to where it was before injury but even if it’s “half-way” throughout the season LaRoche doesn’t feel it’ll affect him. Most importantly, the pain is gone — and the fear that it’ll return went with it.

“It’s nice to know that I can let it loose if I have to do and I’m not going to pay for it the next couple of days,” he said. “(Hitting,) it never hurt… (but) I knew, without a doubt, after those 40-games that something wasn’t right at the plate.

“Obviously we knew the whole time that throwing wasn’t good. When you start taking it into at-bats and you’re thinking about it, you know your off shoulder’s weak, it’s not good for anybody. Luckily all that’s behind us. Swing feels great and the throwing is getting better daily.”

LaRoche has yet to take live batting practice, of course, and the position players won’t be in organized workouts until Saturday but through hitting in the batting cage, he feels that strength has returned. It feels, he said “like the old me, which is nice.”

“I hadn’t had that for a while,” he said. “To get that back is, yeah, it’s pretty great.”

Through the process, he’s learned a lot about the shoulder itself — about all of the various muscles in the shoulder that can be strengthened to help take the strain off the joint. Before surgery, LaRoche admitted he took it for granted that hitting and throwing would be enough to keep his shoulder in shape. Now, he intends to continue doing the exercises laid out for him by the physical therapist throughout the season and, quite possibly, from now on.

“The way I feel, I wish I’d been doing (the shoulder exercises) the last 15 years,” he said.

Now that he’s healthy, though, he knows the Nationals will be expecting him to be the offensive presence they were hoping for when they signed him to a two-year, $16 million deal before the 2011 season. He’s confident he will be — if not better — with all of the rest he got during the four “miserable, to say the least,” months he spent watching the team.

And just to settle one final issue from the offseason, LaRoche said he was well aware of the Nationals’ pursuit of Prince Fielder — but didn’t take it to heart.

“I never was upset about it,” he said. “If you guys are thinking I was mad at the club or disappointed that they were looking elsewhere, if anything, honestly, I’ve got respect for this team for trying to make us better every way they can. If I was the guy it fell on, so be it. I think it shows the direction they’re trying to go with ‘Hey, we’ll do whatever we can possibly do,’ and if you can get a player like that, who’s a game-changer for the long-term, I would have totally understood.

“I’m glad it didn’t work out. I’m glad to be back here with these guys and I’m looking forward to playing a full season this year and being part of it, but I’ve been around enough. I’ve been with enough teams that if it would have happened, it is what it is.”