VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals got one of their injured starters back on the field Thursday as Adam LaRoche was in the lineup for the first time since March 15. LaRoche, who was 1-for-2 with a walk, came through the game without any issues with the bone bruise on his left foot.
He is expected to be in the Nationals’ lineup on Friday and there should be nothing holding him back from starting each game until the regular season begins next Thursday.
“I told (manager Davey Johnson) after the game, ‘Let’s just put this behind us,’” LaRoche said. “I feel like this is over with. Let’s move on and rock and roll for the season.
“With that said, if something does pop up in the next couple of days, I’m going to tell him, but I don’t foresee that being a problem at all.”
LaRoche has played in just five major league games this spring, hampered by the foot/ankle issue since one of the Nationals’ first workouts, but he was able to pick up a solid single off a tough left-hander on Thursday in Mike Minor and while he does not feel great with his timing at the plate he is confident he can work some of that out before Opening Day.
“I’m not where I want to be,” LaRoche said. “But I’m also not up there, which I’ve been before, where you’re just lost and searching… I don’t feel far away. I feel like in the next four or five days, I can be ready to go for Chicago.”
LaRoche has been taking at-bats on the minor league side since last Friday but admitted it is difficult for him to hit there. The biggest benefit for him was being able to see live pitching and at least track balls even if he wasn’t connecting.
Johnson, who has previously said that he plans to platoon LaRoche early on in the season as he gets over the foot injury as well as June shoulder surgery, said he told LaRoche late Thursday that “if he’s going to hit left-handers like that, I may revisit the platoon thing.”
Either way, his healthy return will fill a big hole for the Nationals, who are expected to open the season without cleanup hitter Michael Morse.
For now, Jayson Werth will hit cleanup but LaRoche hit fifth on Thursday and that’s probably a good indication of where he’ll be during the season, even when Morse returns so that he can serve to breakup Morse and Werth, who are both right-handers.