The Washington Times - March 7, 2012, 12:03PM

VIERA, Fla. — Adam LaRoche was back on the Nationals’ minor league fields Wednesday morning, hitting third every half-inning and seeing some live pitching while lightly testing his sprained left ankle.

LaRoche had six at-bats, facing some of the Nationals’ young minor league pitchers in right-handers Paul Demny, Rob Gilliam and left-hander Kylin Turnbull. He ran at about 3/4 speed down to first base on four ground outs — urged as he ran down the line after his fourth at-bat “Easy, easy, easy,” by several Nationals’ officials and trainer Lee Kuntz, who were in attendance. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was also present for the game. 


LaRoche added two walks (both times being pulled for a pinch runner) and came away pleased that he was able to see a few live arms.

“It’s nice to get it over with,” LaRoche said. “First at-bats looked like they were throwing about 120 (mph). Running down to first, it felt good. Just working on that timing. That was the whole key. That’s why I didn’t want to miss a week or two because of the foot thing. If I have to do that a couple times, that’s fine. I want to see pitches, and it takes a little time for me to get the rhythm down and time pitches and make it look like it’s not coming in 100 miles per hour at times. It was a good start.

“I was excited to get out there and see some live pitching. Seeing them behind the screen and with the cage around you, it’s just totally different than getting out there with an umpire and no nets and not knowing what’s coming.”

LaRoche has missed each of the Nationals’ first five spring games and is not in the lineup for Thursday’s game vs. the Astros. Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he hopes he’ll be able to get the first baseman into the team’s lineup for one of Saturday’s split-squad games. The Nationals will play in Lakeland against the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander as well as home against the New York Mets.

As for LaRoche’s surgically-repaired left shoulder, that hasn’t been an issue for LaRoche, even has he faced his first live game pitching since last May.

“It’s getting now where I don’t even think about it,” LaRoche said. “Even throwing, for the most part, unless I’ve got to stretch it out, I don’t think about it. Which is great. I don’t see hitting being an issue.”