Will The Washington Nationals' Adam LaRoche's Shoulder Be 100% By Opening Day?

At this point last year, no one was all that worried about the soreness, or stiffness, that first baseman Adam LaRoche was experiencing in his left shoulder. It was normal to, "... experience a little soreness and work through it," Nats' skipper Jim Riggleman told the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell at the time in an article entitled, "LaRoche still day-to-day with mild shoulder soreness", but the issue the 31-year-old infielder was dealing with, the manager said, "'... is totally new for him, so we're being a little precautionary.'"

The Nationals' doctors eventually discovered a slight tear in the labrum in LaRoche's shoulder. The seven-year veteran who'd signed a 2-year/$16M dollar deal with Washington in January 2011 tried to play through the pain. 43 games and 177 at bats into his first season with the Nationals, with LaRoche hitting .172 with a .288 OBP and a .258 SLG, he was shut down and eventually diagnosed with a significant tear of the labrum and rotator cuff damage which would require surgery.

LaRoche was expected to be 100% by Spring Training. He started throwing in late October Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters. "[LaRoche] started throwing just last week," Rizzo said, "He will be [on] a throwing program and building up to prepare for Spring Training, and he should be full go at Spring Training is the word that I got from not only from Adam but from our medical staff." As the season approached, the Nationals' general manager told reporters that though they'd pursued Prince Fielder, they did so knowing that they had LaRoche if they didn't sign Fielder, who eventually landed in Detroit.

"We think Adam LaRoche is the player that we signed two years ago," Rizzo told reporters, "That's 25 [HR's] and 85 [RBI's], Gold Glove-caliber first baseman, and if he's not 100% healthy, which we believe he is, he says he is, he's going to be ready for Spring Training, we certainly know that Michael Morse can handle the position offensively and defensively." The first reports out of Viera, Florida said that the now-32-year-old LaRoche's shoulder was not yet 100%.

Though Davey Johnson told MLB.com's Bill Ladson in an article entitled, "LaRoche expects shoulder to be 100 percent", that he expected, "...the shoulder to be 100 percent by Opening Day," as the CSNWashington.com and NatsInsider.com reporter Mark Zuckerman wrote in a report entitled, "LaRoche still working his way back", the Nationals' first baseman won't likely know if he's 100% healed, "... until the final week or two of spring training, after he's had a chance to face live pitching day in and day out, and once he's had a chance to reach back and fire a throw to the plate."

LaRoche reportedly tweaked his ankle running the bases yesterday, and reports this morning said he'd had an x-ray on the ankle that revealed no significant damage just swelling and a sprain. LaRoche could throw and swing the bat today, but no running. The first baseman told reporters that the injury would give him time to rest his sore surgically-repaired shoulder. The shoulder discomfort wasn't a big concern as the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore wrote last week in an article entitled, "Adam LaRoche feeling good, but doesn’t expect to be at full strength by opening day." LaRoche's doctors told him after the surgery, "'You’re going to get freaked out and feel like you tore it again.' They assured him that would be a normal part of the process, only scar tissue popping."

NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman wrote this morning in an article entitled, "LaRoche plans to play Sunday", that, "The Nationals' medical staff did run some tests on LaRoche... and came away with no concerns." The veteran infielder will just take things slowly the next few days and probably all Spring as he works his way back to full strength. Mike Rizzo told reporters this winter that though the Nationals didn't find the bat they were after in free agency, he believed the offense will come from a more experienced young core of Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos, more of the same from Michael Morse and, "... that other bat may be a healthy Adam LaRoche. A healthy full season Ryan Zimmerman and a back-to-Jayson Werth-Jayson Werth."

Werth's back in action after a day off to rest his back. Once again, the Nationals are counting on LaRoche's ability to stay healthy and produce. Mark DeRosa could fill in at first if necessary. Morse could fill in as he did last year. But the ideal lineup in the Nats' GM mind has Adam LaRoche at first providing Gold Glove defense and at least matching his expected production. Will Washington get a full year out of the veteran infielder in year two of his two-year deal? The Nationals have a lot riding on the recovery of his surgically-repaired shoulder.

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