Adam LaRoche had a .143/.221/.286 line heading into the series finale with the Cincinnati Reds this afternoon and he was in the midst of a fairly brutal 0 for 22 streak stretching back to a hit in his first at bat in the finale of the Washington Nationals' three-game series in New York back on April 21st. Over the stretch, the left-handed hitting first baseman had struck out 10 times.
The Reds also had a hard-throwing, 23-year-old, left-hander on the mound in Tony Cingrani, who had held left-handed hitters to a .190/.261/.238 line over the first five games and 17.0 innings of his major league career. "I knew it was going to be a tough matchup for him today," Davey Johnson told reporters after LaRoche went 0 for 4 with three Ks in the Nats' loss, stretching his hitless streak to 0 for 26, with 13 Ks in those ABs.
"I said, 'I'm most concerned about what you need,'" Johnson explained, "And he said, 'Well, sitting doesn't do me any good. I need to play,' so I gave him the nod. It's just little things. His timing's a little off. Maybe his pitch selection is a little off, trying to make something happen. But he's a veteran hitter. He's a heck of a good player. He'll be fine. He'll come around."
Johnson was asked to diagnose LaRoche's problem earlier in the series with Cincinnati. "He's been chronically a slow starter," Johnson said, "And last year [with LaRoche recovering from surgery for a torn labrum] I didn't get the 'o.k.' in Spring Training until a week before the [season]. I had to go to the doctor and get an 'o.k.' to use him. And he had, I think, seven games and he also went over to the minor league side and got about 15 at bats. And this Spring I was a little worried about it, knowing he had sometimes come out of the gate slow and so I was playing him too much, I even said it to him. 'You know, I'm messing up your Spring. I should have held you back until the last week, so you could come out on fire.'"
"But his approach is good," Johnson continued, "He's a veteran hitter. He's going to be fine. So, this is just more normal stuff he's gone through in the past."
LaRoche does have a career .215/.308/.394 line in March/April, but with the exception of the 2011 season when he tried to play through a torn labrum and only made it worse, he's gotten off to strong starts in 2009, '10 and '12. In '09 in Pittsburgh, LaRoche had a .269/.352/.564 line with eight doubles and five home runs in 20 games and 88 PAs in March/April. In 2010 in Arizona, LaRoche came roaring out of the gate with a .296/.390/.563 line, seven doubles and four home runs in his first 20 games and 82 PAs. In 2012, in his second year in D.C., the Nats' first baseman started the year with a .329/.415/.549 first month in which he hit six doubles and four home runs in 21 games and 94 PAs for the eventual NL East division winners.
Johnson joked throughout the 2012 campaign, that he'd motivated LaRoche's success as he slowly worked his way back last Spring from the surgery and a foot injury by telling him he might have to platoon at first with Mark DeRosa to start the year if LaRoche's surgically-repaired shoulder and bothersome foot weren't ready for the start of the season.
"I think I helped jump start him this season," Johnson explained last year, "because I told him toward the end of Spring Training, I said, 'Adam, with you and DeRosa, I'll probably do a platoon over there. I know your foot is not 100% and I'm worried about your shoulder and DeRosa has a bad wrist, so maybe I get 100% over there.'"
"And he looked at me like I was crazy," Johnson recalled, but "From day one he's been basically carrying the ballclub."
Would the threat of sharing time at first with Tyler Moore do the trick this time around? Even after LaRoche's 0 for 4 in the series finale with Cincinnati today, Johnson didn't express any serious concerns. "He'll be fine," Johnson said, "Going to Atlanta and Pittsburgh, good places to break out." Asked if he thought of sitting the 33-year-old veteran who signed a 2-year/$24M dollar deal to return to the nation's capital after becoming a free agent and surveying the market for a multi-year deal this winter, Johnson said, "No."
"He contributes so much just defensively," the manager explained, "I like him out there. I mean, the score [in the loss to the Reds] could have been a lot worse, he made some good plays out there today, but his bat will come around."
After today's hitless outing, LaRoche has a .135/.210/.270 line with a double and three home runs in 81 plate appearances.