- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. Watching Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche dive to his right to stab ground balls, run the bases aggressively and take his hacks at the plate Tuesday night, you’d never know he was the same guy who later walked through the visiting clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium with his left shoulder encased in ice, or the one wincing as he dressed after the Nationals’ loss.

The slight labrum tear in his left shoulder is causing some problems for LaRoche, he doesn’t deny that fact. The shoulder is sore and it is hampering his throwing.

But it has yet to affect his swing - and until it does, if it ever does, LaRoche, who was 3-for-16 this season at the plate going into Wednesday night’s game against the Florida Marlins, is prepared to do whatever is necessary to keep himself in the lineup.

“It’d have to be pretty bad for me to ask out of the lineup for an injury,” LaRoche said before the game. “If it hurt swinging, then I’m not helping the team. Then I would rest it.”

In order to keep that from happening for as long as they can, the Nationals are working with LaRoche, who received a cortisone shot in the shoulder just before the season began, to maintain things. He does various resistance exercises to strengthen his upper back every other day and he ices the shoulder whenever necessary.

“The only way I would give him a day off because of his shoulder is if it affects his swing,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “If it affects his throwing, we’re just going to have to hang with that. It’s not a position where he has to do a lot of throwing so if it gets to where it affects his swing, we’d have to give him a couple of days off.”

Should that become the case, the Nationals’ options are somewhat limited. Their depth at first base goes from LaRoche to left fielder Michael Morse and pinch-hitting specialist Matt Stairs.

While Stairs brings a wealth of experience to the position - in his 15-plus big league seasons he has played 290 career games at first with a .991 career fielding percentage - the last time he spent significant time there was 10 years ago, when he played 89 games at the position with the Cubs.

In 2010, Stairs played just three games at first, starting only one. During spring training, the veteran joked that he’d had his first baseman’s mitt since the year 2000 and it was still in pristine condition.

Morse would be the first choice, though, to take over if LaRoche needs some time. Originally drafted as a shortstop, Morse has played 37 games at first base in the big leagues, including 19 there for the Nationals in 2010, and has never committed an error at the position.

Giving him time at first base would also allow the Nationals to give Laynce Nix playing time in left field against a right-handed pitcher.

“That’s the way we’d go,” Riggleman said. “But I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that … [LaRoche is] a good player. We knew what we were getting there and he’s doing fine.”

Since 2004, LaRoche has played in, on average, 141 games per season. In 2010, he missed just 11 games and 12 the year before that. Sitting out is not something he’s known, so it’s not an option he’s considering unless pain forces the issue.

That being said, pain isn’t something he has known either. A former college pitcher, LaRoche said he can’t remember a time, dating back to Little League, when he even had a sore arm; so there’s no telling if and when it could become a hindrance to his swing.

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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