MILWAUKEE — When the Washington Nationals built their roster this offseason, they envisioned an infield that featured two talented stalwarts at the corners around their young middle infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa.
With third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (abdominal muscle) out until at least mid-June, that vision took another hit Monday when first baseman Adam LaRoche went on the 15-day disabled list with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
LaRoche will be shut down for a few weeks then re-evaluated. At this point, surgery is not being considered.
The first baseman said Sunday that while he does not experience the same pain swinging the bat as he does throwing, he feels a lack of strength in his swing may be related to the tear.
“Adam is basically saying ‘It doesn’t hurt [swinging], but I can’t believe I’m missing these pitches,’ ” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. ” ‘Maybe it’s something there not allowing me to get to the ball’ and so we’ve got to explore that.”
The Nationals will not make a corresponding roster move until Tuesday, at which point they could activate outfielder Rick Ankiel from the disabled list and use internal options at first base in LaRoche’s absence. Ankiel, who sprained his right wrist May 2, played in a rehab game with Double-A Harrisburg on Monday night after spending the previous five days in Florida playing in extended spring training games.
The most likely candidate to get the starts at first is Michael Morse, who has been sharing time in left field with Laynce Nix after losing the starting job. Morse, hampered by a sore right knee, was hitting .211 by the end of April, and Nix continued to swing a hot bat and perform well defensively.
Morse, who was drafted as a shortstop, has played just 23 career games at first base. Anyone the Nationals would consider at that position would be downgrade defensively from LaRoche.
“He’s a great defensive first baseman,” said Espinosa. “Everyone knows that. Any time you lose a defensive guy like that, obviously it’s going to affect you some.”
The tear, which was detected in spring training, had only been causing issues with LaRoche’s throws at first base. But with so few difficult throws required from that position, he was attempting to play through it. His .172 batting average and drastically low on-base and slugging percentages (.288, .258), though, were another issue.
Much of LaRoche’s struggles were attributed to historically being a slow starter, but he knew that this felt different.
“I know my body when things are right and when things aren’t right,” he said Sunday. “When I’ve struggled in the past, I’m not taking walks, I’m swinging at bad pitches, I’m guessing, I’m jumping on the ball. But I’m taking my walks, I’m being selective as far as the pitches I’m swinging at, I’m swinging at pitches that I want to hit.
LaRoche will return to Washington and meet the team when it returns to begin a homestand Friday.
Notes: An Major League Baseball spokesman confirmed that an investigation into Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo’s altercation with umpires in New York last Thursday has been completed. Rizzo has been disciplined, but no details will be announced.
Right-hander Stephen Strasburg announced via Twitter that he threw off a mound Monday for the first time since his September Tommy John ligament-reconstruction surgery. It is a significant step as Strasburg continues to work his way back.
Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann first pitched in a major league game roughly five months after throwing off a mound for the first time since he had Tommy John surgery in 2009. That timetable would put Strasburg’s first start in the 2012 season.