March 14, 2012; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche (25) catches the ball for an out in the fourth inning of the game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
Though he contributed very little offensively in the first year of his 2-year/$16M dollar deal in D.C., putting up a .172/.288/.258 line with four doubles and three home runs in 43 games and 177 plate appearances before a torn labrum and rotator cuff damage in his left shoulder ended his season, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo, in a June '11 MLB Network Radio interview, said that in the time now 32-year-old Washington Nationals' first baseman Adam LaRoche played first base in Spring Training and early in the season, he'd "... changed the whole dynamic of [the Nationals'] infield," which last year and again in 2012 will include Ryan Zimmerman at third with Ian Desmond at short, Danny Espinosa at second and LaRoche at first.
All signs point to 23-year-old 2011 Minor League Gold Glove winner Steve Lombardozzi coming off the bench in a utility role this season after a 2011 campaign in which he had a combined .309/.360/.430 line in 134 games and 616 plate appearances before making his MLB debut. After going 3 for 4 with three singles against the Tigers last night, the son of former Major Leaguer Steve Lombardozzi, Sr. has a .328/.355/.397 line with a double, a home run, three walks and seven K's in Grapefruit League action. The Nationals also added Mark DeRosa to the mix, signing the finally healthy (hopefully) 37-year-old, 14-year veteran this winter. DeRosa has a double, one home run and a .385/.556/.538 line in 12 games and 26 at bats, over which he's walked 10 times while striking out only once so far this Spring. (ed. note - "Danny Espinosa has 20 K's in 60 AB's, and the suddenly-hot at the plate Ian Desmond's struck out 18 times in 67.")
DeRosa's impressed Davey Johnson this Spring. The manager announced earlier this week that he thought he'd probably use a platoon at first with DeRosa and LaRoche, since LaRoche was still working his way back from a bruised left foot that delayed the left-handed hitting first baseman's return to the lineup this Spring. Asked about his manager's comments, which the wily 69-year-old skipper admitted in an MLB Network Radio interview had been at least partially intended to, ".. to scare the heck out of Adam LaRoche," the veteran of eight MLB seasons at first with the Braves, Pirates, Red Sox and D-Backs offer no comment to reporters.
LaRoche finally returned to the lineup today, playing six innings in this afternoon's split squad game against the Atlanta Braves and going 1 for 2 with a single and a walk in what were only his eighth, ninth and tenth at bats this Spring. Though he hasn't had a lot of major league at bats in Grapefruit League action, even when his foot kept him out of the lineup LaRoche was getting AB's in on the minor league side, and though he's got a reputation as a slow starter, with a .208/.303/.385 line in March/April over the course of his career, LaRoche actually started strong the last time he began a season healthy, hitting from the start with a .296/.390/.563 line, seven doubles and four home runs in 20 games and 82 plate appearances in April of 2010 with Arizona.
After seeing LaRoche at first and at the plate against Braves' lefty Mike Minor this afternoon, Davey Johnson told reporters, as recounted by CSNWashington.com's Mark Zuckerman in an article entitled, "LaRoche ready to open season", that, "... if [LaRoche's] going to hit left-handers like that, I may revisit the platoon thing." The first baseman told reporters he'd spoken to the Nats' skipper after leaving Thursday's game and told the manager he wanted to move on from what's happened before, "'... and rock-and-roll for the season.'"
When the Nats' GM talked to reporters in the winter of 2010 at a press conference introducing LaRoche to the nation's capital, he touted the veteran first baseman's consistency, saying you can look at his career stats and, "... more or less draw a conclusion of what [LaRoche] is going to bring offensively to the table. Defensively, he's going to bring run prevention and I think that's going to help balance our club much more." Talking about what he expects from LaRoche's second year in the nation's capital, Rizzo was optimistic he'd get what they wanted out of the first baseman last year. "We think Adam LaRoche is the player that we signed two years ago," the general manager explained, "That's 25 [HR's] and 85 [RBI's]," and a, "Gold Glove-caliber first baseman." Starting the season healthy is a positive first step, and it appears LaRoche is finally healthy and on track to do just that.