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Struggling Adam LaRoche turns to old teammate, Chipper Jones, for help with swing

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2013

ATLANTA — As the Washington Nationals were making themselves comfortable inside the visitors' clubhouse at Turner Field on Monday afternoon, in strolled a man wearing jeans and a black-and-white button-up shirt.

Chipper Jones spent 19 years in the major leagues, all of them with a locker just down the hall in the Atlanta Braves' home clubhouse. Newly retired, he found himself visiting the Nationals in a part of Turner Field he said he'd never really been.

As Jones looked around, first baseman Adam LaRoche caught sight of him and smiled.

"My other hitting coach is here," he said.

"Get him feeling good," manager Davey Johnson told Jones. "And then I've got a couple more guys you can talk to."

LaRoche entered the opener of a four-game series with the Braves on Monday night mired in the longest hitless streak of his career. A drought that spanned 26 consecutive at-bats and seven entire games has left him frustrated and searching for an answer.

It's not really new for him, though.

Over the course of his career, LaRoche has endured eight streaks in which he's gone five or more games without a hit. In 2012, a year in which he hit a career-high 33 home runs and led all National League first basemen, LaRoche went five games without a hit in May.

After the Nationals' lost to the Reds on Sunday afternoon, though, as LaRoche digested his latest 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, he acknowledged he feels about as good as it looks right now.

But he also reiterated that the only thing there is to do is to press onward.

"I've got one of two options here," he said. "I either keep my head up, keep swinging or pack up and go home. I'm not ready to go home yet."

Two years ago, when a torn labrum in LaRoche's left shoulder zapped it of strength and, despite the absence of pain in his swing, stole almost all of his power, the first baseman tried to work his way through it in hopes of helping the Nationals win games.

One day, his frustration got to be so much, LaRoche walked off the field after a game in Washington and drove straight home in uniform, at a loss to explain his lack of production and his inability to help the team.

He's nowhere close to that point now, he said.

"It happens probably once a year: I'll go take my bat and try to break something," LaRoche said Monday. "Usually it's a culmination of things. It's normally going to be when I'm [struggling] and we just gave away a game or something. ... It happens very rarely, but never just from personal struggles. It's always a combination.

"I don't get too fired up. It's not like I enjoy it, but I don't know what getting mad is going to do."

So LaRoche sat with Jones in the corridor outside the Nationals' clubhouse where the team's video equipment was set up.

They talked about his swing while a loop of the first baseman played for the two former Braves teammates. Maybe they found something LaRoche hadn't noticed on his own. Maybe the new voice would help.

"I talked to [Hall of Famer] Al Kaline one of my first years, and anything he had to say, I was like a sponge," Johnson said. "He gave me a few tips, and they helped. Just talking to a great hitter, after you leave the conversation, you feel like you're better. Every conversation I had with Ted Williams when he was managing the Senators, I'd go out and get two or three hits."

The Nationals, and LaRoche, hoped that would be the case with Jones. And sure enough, LaRoche singled in his first at-bat Monday night and scored.

"The way I look at it is every day I wake up is a good day to get hot and start a new streak — hopefully a good one — and end this one," LaRoche said. "That's it. A lot of this game is like that. It can take one little flare, one swing. Get some confidence back."

NOTES: Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos came off the disabled list Monday and the team optioned Jhonatan Solano to Triple-A Syracuse. Ramos did not start Monday, though, as Johnson said he was being "overly cautious" with the player's now-healed left hamstring injury. ... Chad Tracy got the start at third base Monday as Anthony Rendon got a day off. Johnson said that was mainly to allow Tracy, a key bench player, to get some regular at-bats.

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