VIERA, Fla. – Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche was one of the first position players into camp this week as he tries to put a dismal, injury-plagued 2011 in the rear view mirror. Already, this camp feels so much better than last year’s.
“Just to go into December and January and to start swinging, feel a little more strength and feel better about it, it’s a pretty good feeling,” LaRoche says.
The 32-year-old went through all of spring training last year knowing there was something wrong with his left shoulder. He decided to try to play through the pain figuring he’d be able to get by if the only thing it affected was his throwing.
The shoulder became so weak it also affected his offense.
“I knew without a doubt after those 40 games, or whatever it was, that something wasn’t right at the plate,” he says. “Obviously, we knew the whole time that throwing wasn’t good. You know, when you start taking it into at bats, you are thinking about it, you know your off shoulder is weak and it’s just not good for anybody.”
LaRoche hit just .172 in 43 games with three home runs and 15 RBI before he had to shut it down and opt for season-ending surgery to repair the injury.
He has been hitting in the cages everyday trying to prepare for the start of spring training games. LaRoche says he doesn’t regret his decision to try and play through the pain last year.
“No, I gave it 40 to 50 games and it didn’t work. It was miserable to say the least to have to sit and watch the majority of the season and not be able to do anything about it but now looking back on it, it was worth it because everything feels great.”
LaRoche hit 25 home runs and drove in 100 runs in 2010 while playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks. If the early returns on his rehab are any indication, he is very optimistic he can return to his 2010 form.
“In flips and in batting practice, it feels like the old me, which is nice,” he says. “I haven’t had that for a while, so to get that back is a pretty good feeling. It was the first couple weeks of hitting where I was like, okay, this is turning out to be real good. It’s feeling really good and I have every hope by the end of camp it’s going to be really good swinging and I think throwing will eventually come.”
“The confidence is there and, honestly, it feels like I took a whole year off. I feel like a new player and it’s all because I have a little bit of strength back and I can get to the pitches I wasn’t getting to,” he says. “Hitting right now, I feel like other than timing and just needing repetitions and all throughout spring, I feel like I’m ready to go.”
“The throwing, even if its halfway through the season, it’s not going to affect me because it’s not going to set me back strength wise at the plate like it did last year,” says LaRoche. “Honestly, it would be great to be 100% throwing but if it’s not, I’m not worried about it.”
LaRoche also had something else to deal with. During the winter the Nationals tried to sign free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder, who eventually signed a nine-year deal with the Detroit Tigers.
“You know, I was never upset about it. If you guys think I was mad at the club or disappointed they were looking elsewhere, if anything, honestly, I have respect for this team for trying to make us better anyway they can and if I was the guy it fell on, so be it,” he says. “I am glad it didn’t work out. I love being back here, I love these guys and I’m looking forward to playing a full season this year and being part of it.”