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Washington Nationals' Adam LaRoche's Slow Start: More Of The Same Or Cause For Concern?

Adam LaRoche is 1 for 9 with an RBI with RISP so far this season, 3 for 12 with two walks with men on base and overall the 31-year-old new Nats' first baseman is 3 for 19 with two walks and two K's in his first five games with his new team. A slow start for the former Atlanta Braves' prospect is nothing new. Though he managed a .296/.390/.563 line last April with Arizona, over the course of LaRoche's seven-plus years in the Majors he's put up a .209/.302/.388 slash line in 155 games and 603 plate appearances in the first month of the season.

LaRoche talked to's Byron Kerr this winter about his history of starting off slowly for an article entitled, "Nats need LaRoche to buck trend again, get off to hot start", explaining that he'd done nothing different with the D-Backs. "Obviously, early on, it got frustrating having a slow start and totally opposite first and second halves," LaRoche told Mr. Kerr, "It is something now where, at the end of the year, I am in a pretty good spot." 

D.C. GM Mike Rizzo pointed to the consistent production LaRoche has provided over the years when talking to reporters this winter about the expectations which will be placed on LaRoche in the first year of his two-year deal and the first year in two years that Adam Dunn won't be standing at first and hitting in the middle of the Nats' lineup:

Mike Rizzo: "I think you're talking about two of the most consistent players that there are," Rizzo said of the new and old first basemen, "You can look at their numbers consistently and you can 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."

So how would one be able to tell if it was the "slight tear" in Adam LaRoche's left labrum that was affecting his output early this season or if it's a just the continuation of a pattern set by a player that's consistently produced the same results throughout his time in the majors? Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak reported last night, in an article entitled, "LaRoche not letting hurt left shoulder sideline him", that LaRoche admits that, "The slight labrum tear in his left shoulder is causing some problems," but only when he's throwing as he explained when the injury was first diagnosed. "If it hurt swinging," LaRoche explained to the Times' reporter, "then I’m not helping the team. Then I would rest it."

Nats' skipper Jim Riggleman is quoted in the article as well, explaining that if the injury starts to affect LaRoche's swing the team will sit their new first baseman, but since it's only bothering him when he's throwing and since first base, Riggleman says, is, "...not a position where he has to do a lot of throwing," the Nats aren't concerned and will only make a decision on sitting LaRoche, "...if it gets to where it affects his swing, we’d have to give him a couple of days off."

The Nats have examined LaRoche's shoulder, an MRI revealed the slight tear, and since the history of his slow starts is well-established, it will be hard to tell if the tear is responsible for the Nats' first baseman's early struggles. You have to believe that he wouldn't jeopardize his own health to live up to the expectations the Nats have placed on the veteran first baseman. But it's something to keep an eye on. LaRoche missing any significant amount of time this season could be a serious blow to the Nats' attempts to take another step towards respectability.