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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 05/19/2011

Adam LaRoche frustrated with slow start


When Adam LaRoche came to Washington, he carried an accurate reputation as a slow starter. “I just haven’t figured out how to get out of the gate on the right track,” LaRoche said. “That’s the frustrating part.” And never in his career has he encountered as much frustration as his first season with the Nationals.

LaRoche is hitting .177/.291/.270 this year. This is harsh, but a matter of fact: LaRoche, especially when you consider he plays a premium offensive position, endured perhaps the worst offensive first quarter of the season in the National League.

“I’m close one day, and then not the next,” LaRoche said. “It’s getting pretty frustrating trying to find it.”

LaRoche has never really hit well this early this season. Before this season, he hit .209/.303/.395 in April and .257/.332/.449 in May. But he has never sunk quite as low as he has started this year. Dating back to 2006, here’s how LaRoche has stood each year in the triple slash categories on May 19:

2010: .267/.362/.504

2009: .231/.317/.455

2008: .203/.298/.345

2007: .204/.323/.350 (Days later, he was at .191/.306/.325)

2006: .246/.349/.484.

Even for one of baseball’s most notorious slow starters, this season’s rocky start is an outlier.

There are two factors that are different this year that stick out. The first is LaRoche’s .218 batting average on balls in play, which screams he is due a positive correction. His career BABIP is .316, so his luck is going to undergo an extreme change soon.

“I think when you’re in the rut, nothing’s going to go your way,” LaRoche said. “You may hit a ball or two good, it’s going to be right at somebody. The close calls aren’t going to go your way. Just little things. That’s baseball. I’ve been there plenty, and it doesn’t make it easier.”

The second is that LaRoche is playing with a small tear in the labrum inside his left shoulder. LaRoche still insists it does not affect his swing – “it’s fine,” he said Wednesday night – but still, it’s hard to believe it’s having no effect. Even if LaRoche feels no pain when he swings, the labral tear could be sapping his strength.

LaRoche has still drawn 23 walks, but his dearth of power has been most alarming. He has not produced an extra-base hit since May 5, and his last home run came April 24.

Manager Jim Riggleman indicated he’s not planning on giving LaRoche a day off any time soon. The Nationals are scheduled to face right-handed starting pitchers the next four days, which can only help. Plus, LaRoche gives the Nationals an above-average defensive first baseman.

“I check with him,” Riggleman said. “I let him know, ‘if you need a day, you got it.’ He says, ‘No, I feel good.’ We see signs he’s coming out of it. But I’ll check with him, see how he’s feeling about it.”

Riggleman also said he probably won’t move LaRoche any lower than fifth in the lineup, in part because it would upset the left-right balance in the Nationals’ order. “You look at other clubs’ bullpens and look at how attractive you make it to bring in a left-hander in certain situations,” Riggleman said. “Somtimes, it’s not just as easy as just dropping somebody.”

LaRoche is not the kind of player who will want out of the lineup. Earlier this season, LaRoche tried to talk his way into playing after his shoulder deteriorated for a few days. He was frustrated last night, but he also remained confident that by the end of the season, his numbers will be where he wants then.

“Obviously, I learned how to get out of it,” LaRoche said. “Because I wind up okay.”

FROM THE POST

The Nationals suffered a 3-0 loss to the Mets, their sixth shutout of the season and third in nine games. .

Bryce Harper will follow a path similar to Harmon Killebrew’s, Boz writes.

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 10, Norfolk 4: Chris Marrero went 3 for 5. Adam Fox went 2 for 4 with a double. Yunesky Maya allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings on four hits and a walk, striking out two.

Harrisburg was rained out.

Potomac 6, Frederick 3: Destin Hood went 3 for 5 with two doubles. Eury Perez went 2 for 4. In his first appearance after leaving extended spring training, Rafael Martin allowed no runs in 1 1/3 innings on three hits and no walks, striking out two.

Hagerstown 4, Kannapolis 3:Bryce Harper went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk. David Freitas went 3 for 4 wtih a double.

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 05/19/2011

 
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