WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Shane Victorino #8 of the Philadelphia Phillies is out at first base as first baseman Adam LaRoche #25 of the Washington Nationals digs out the throw at Nationals Park on April 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Nats' first baseman Adam LaRoche was introduced to the nation's capital this past January as an, "elite defender at first base," who the Nationals believed would, "...positively impact the entire infield as well as our young pitching staff." According to D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, (in an interview yesterday on MLB Network Radio) the 31-year-old first baseman, "changed the whole dynamic of that infield," before he was placed on the DL with an injury that was far worse than what had originally been diagnosed as a "slight tear" of the labrum in his left shoulder.
The injury, which originally caused concern early this Spring, limited the Nats' free agent signing's ability to throw early in Spring Training, but since he experienced no pain while swinging, LaRoche felt he could continue to play with/through the pain. 43 games and 177 plate appearances later, with the former Braves, Pirates, Red Sox and D-Backs' first baseman having accumulated a .172/.288/.258 slash line, a .086 ISO (down from .211 career ISO) and a .205 BABIP (down from .330 in 2010), LaRoche decided to shut it down and have another look at the shoulder which he felt was severly limiting his power...
A significant tear of the labrum and some rotator cuff issues were discovered the second time doctors had a look at LaRoche's shoulder, and though he attempted to take a few weeks off to rehab the injury, last night the inevitable was announced. LaRoche would undergo season-ending shoulder surgery this week with the aim of returning 100% healthy and ready to go for Spring Training 2012 and what will be the second-year of the two-year/$16M dollar contract he signed this past winter.
"Adam was really trying to gut his way through a tough situation," Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman said this morning in an appearance on the MLB Network Radio show "First Pitch" with Rob Dibble and Jim Memolo, "He did that [the injury] the first or second day of Spring Training, and he said he's going to try to play with it, and he played great defense, Gold Glove first base while he was hurt, but finally it took its toll on him. I think he just felt that there [were] pitches that he wasn't getting to for whatever reason...
"He'd been in some slumps before, but never to the point where he just had so many pitches that were right there and he was right on and he was just late, fouling them off or missing, whatever and so I think it took its toll on his production and we just have to play without him. Fortunately Mike Morse is doing a great job, but when the club was put together, you put it together thinking you'd have Adam there in the middle, a left-handed bat there, and it's not going to be there until next year, so we just wish him the best and hope he recovers to be 100%."
"'It's disappointing because it negatively affects the ball club,'" D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak, as quoted in an article entitled, "LaRoche to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery." "'It takes a Gold Glove first-baseman and 25 homers and 80 to 100 RBIs out of your lineup, which will affect any team.'"
Since taking over for LaRoche at first, Michael Morse, in the last 28 days, has a .348/.406/.685 slash with a .387 BABIP, 7 doubles, 8 HR's and 26 RBI's in 25 games and 101 plate appearances. While Morse might not be a Gold Glove caliber first baseman, he's provided error-free defense at first thus far, and added the power the Nats were missing with LaRoche diminished by injury. LaRoche's shoulder issues should finally give Morse a chance to see what he can do with close to a full-season of AB's, the early returns are impressive, if not what the Nationals planned.