The Washington Times - March 26, 2012, 11:26AM

VIERA, Fla. — Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche was on one of the team’s backfields Monday morning running back and forth a few times on the grass around the curve of the infield with Nationals trainer Lee Kuntz. LaRoche ran the route at least three times and also jogged in a circle once to test the bone bruise in his left foot that has been causing him problems since the first week of workouts this spring.

The first baseman then came back to Space Coast Stadium and took grounders at first during batting practice.

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And all of that is a good sign that LaRoche will be able to be on the Nationals’ active roster when Opening Day rolls around next Thursday.

“It’s not something I can’t play with,” LaRoche said before he went out to get his first running activity in a week that would involve any turning. 

“When it was at its peak and really hurting, I could still go play.”

The Nationals have taken an ultra-conservative approach with all of their injured players this spring but of those who’ve been banged up, LaRoche appears to be the closest to a return. After a brief bit of activity that resulted in some discomfort, LaRoche was forced into a shutdown last week. But he began getting at-bats on the minor league side Friday, getting seven or eight at-bats and allowing himself to see two days worth of pitches in the hopes of getting his timing right at the plate.

The Nationals are pushing for him to get clearance by Thursday so that he could get into a few major league games and play the field with his teammates for a few games before the opener on April 5. 

“Today’s the big day,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “If he can do this without any discomfort on the inversion turn then he’ll do a little more, gradually, on the turn, leading up to the 29th.”

If the Nationals are going to play LaRoche in a major league spring game they will have to be almost 100 percent certain that he’ll be healthy enough to start the season on the 25-man roster. The last day a player can be backdated to for the disabled list is Monday, March 26.

But if all goes according to plan, the Nationals will have one less hole in their lineup to worry about. Ideally, as the season starts, Johnson plans to use LaRoche in a bit of a platoon — a plan he had in place when it was just a shoulder injury that LaRoche was coming off of but one that only became reinforced when LaRoche hurt his foot.

That’s not a plan that the first baseman is too keen on. Johnson said LaRoche made those feelings known in their conversation on the topic on Sunday and when he was asked about it Monday, LaRoche said: “No comment. That’s how I feel about it.”

It doesn’t appear his feelings will be factored in too much, though, as Johnson aims to keep him healthy for the long haul. 

“I’m glad,” Johnson said when informed of LaRoche’s reaction. “I mean, hell, we don’t even have him out there yet and we’re having a conversation about playing time on the major league level. That’s great.”

The platoon, Johnson explained, would not mean that “every time they bring in a left-hander you take him out of the lineup.” 

“It’s not like I’m saying ‘At this stage, you’re a platoon player,’” Johnson said. “No. ‘You have these injuries and I’m going to make sure you get some rest.’”

Johnson had planned to augment LaRoche’s playing time with Mark DeRosa, primarily, at first base. DeRosa is also coming off of two injury-riddled seasons with a difficult wrist injury and Johnson was hoping to give them both the necessary rest by using them in tandem some. That, however, will all depend on the health of outfielder Michael Morse. If LaRoche is ready to go but Morse is not, DeRosa will likely be needed to play left field on a more regular basis, thereby necessitating someone else on the bench to relieve LaRoche.

– Speaking of Morse, he is still scheduled to begin throwing on Wednesday, testing his strained right lat for the first time since he served as the Nationals’ designated hitter on March 13 and the first throwing he’s been allowed to do — even lightly — since before that. 

How that goes will then dictate when Morse might be able to start swinging the bat again and playing in games but Morse will not play in any major league spring games regardless due, again, to the backdating rule that would allow him to miss as little regular season time as possible if a disabled list stint is necessary.

“He doesn’t feel any discomfort,” Johnson said. “But he’s on a schedule… When that translates into him even hitting, (I don’t know).

“It’s not going to be until we’re sure he can’t re-injure anything… Any injury if you come back and it could get worse, they’re the scary ones.”