Adam LaRoche taking final steps before return to Nats

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The Nationals are nowhere near full health. Even after the return of pitcher Doug Fister and catcher Wilson Ramos, there are still plenty of big names on the disabled list.

But Washington at least took one more step forward on the injury front Wednesday when first baseman Adam LaRoche scheduled his first rehabilitation start. That assignment comes on Thursday at Single-A Potomac and will test his lingering strained right quadriceps muscle.

LaRoche went through a full pregame routine Wednesday before the Nats’ rain-delayed afternoon contest against the Cincinnati Reds. He took batting practice, ran hard to first base, swung in the indoor batting cage and took ground balls at first base.

“We’ll see how he gets through it and make a plan there,” Washington manager Matt Williams said. “The first order of business is getting through today and making sure there are no setbacks, getting him to a game, see how he comes through that.”

LaRoche could probably head to Double-A Harrisburg for a second rehab appearance Friday. The Senators begin a homestand that day against Bowie and LaRoche could make the easy trip to Pittsburgh for a possible Sunday return. The Nats are at PNC Park for a four-game series starting on Thursday. They return home on Memorial Day to face the Miami Marlins.

LaRoche was off to an excellent start through 32 games before finally succumbing to the quad injury. He simply couldn’t run the bases effectively anymore and it began to affect his play in the field as well. And yet he was batting .319 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .504 slugging percentage thanks to five homers and six doubles.

Any move to return LaRoche to the active roster means either utility man Greg Dobbs, signed just last week, or first baseman Tyler Moore, the main fill-in for LaRoche, would be in trouble. Moore began the year with the Nats, though they could choose to return him to Triple-A Syracuse to give him consistent at-bats. Moore has played solid defense in LaRoche’s absence, but he is hitting just .224 with three homers.

Dobbs has only appeared in two games with Washington since being released by the Marlins. He is 3-for-8 and is a veteran left-handed bat off the bench. Whether that’s enough to keep him ahead of Moore remains to be seen.

LaRoche must get through his rehab games healthy first. Otherwise, he might be back in the broadcast booth with MASN, a guest role he played for three innings on Sunday with broadcast team Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo. LaRoche is anxious, but must bide his time still. He is not eligible to come off the disabled list until Sunday’s May 25 game in Pittsburgh.

“The challenge we have is a Saturday game somewhere, probably at night, and then a Sunday day game in Pittsburgh and a Monday day game here [vs. Miami],” Williams said of the complicated logistics of bringing LaRoche back into the fold.

Williams is also anxious to see how LaRoche’s muscle holds up under game speed. The quick motions needed to make plays in the field could test a quad that, as LaRoche noted during Sunday’s MASN telecast, felt much improved last weekend. He was placed on the disabled list May 10 after it became clear that he was a liability on the bases, struggling to go from first-to-third on even extra-base hits.

Among position players with 11 games or more, LaRoche leads Washington in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS (.925). He is still tied for third in homers and is still third in RBI (21) despite playing 13 fewer games than shortstop Ian Desmond and third baseman Anthony Rendon, who led the team with 25 entering play on Wednesday.

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