The Nationals will miss their projected cleanup hitter until at least midseason, at best, and today they could learn their best player will land on the disabled list for a short stay. But they have won 14 of 18 games without Michael Morse, including all three without Ryan Zimmerman.
“As a team, we know we’ve got to step up,” Adam LaRoche said. “As a whole, everybody feels we’ve got to pick up their slack.”
The Nationals have thrived, of course, on their amazing pitching. But for what offense they have produced, they have relied mainly on LaRoche, their replacement cleanup hitter. Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth have joined him with good starts, but no hitter has meant more to the lineup than LaRoche, a question mark in spring training because of his surgically repaired shoulder and, at the moment, their best hitter.
Wednesday, LaRoche went 3 for 3 with a walk and his team-leading 14th RBI, raising his slash line for the year to .313/.403/.478. The Nationals have been able to weather Morse’s absence and Zimmerman’s slow start in large part because of LaRoche. Given his ineffectiveness before his injury last year, he has been virtually a new addition to the lineup.
“He’s been carrying us,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s really a slow starter, so a chance in that trend has been huge.”
LaRoche has defied that well-earned, slow-starting reputation. Even including this season, LaRoche in his career has hit .216/.310/.391 in April, by his worst month. And “it hasn’t just been April,” LaRoche said. “Sometimes it’s been two or three months where I [stunk].”
LaRoche admitted he sometimes wondered what his career numbers may look like if he hadn’t gotten off to so many slows starter. If you take only his second-half numbers, LaRoche would be a career .295 hitter, with a .354 on-base percentage and a .535 slugging percentage – better on-base than Justin Morneau, higher slugging than Chipper Jones.
What’s been different this year? Don’t bother asking.
“Nothing,” LaRoche said. “Nothing at all.”
However he hits, his teammates appreciate his even keel. “LaRoche, if he was 0 for 50, he would carry himself the same exact way he does now,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. Luckily for the Nationals, they do not have to worry about that.
FROM THE POST
The Nationals could finally relax in a 7-2 win over the Padres that allowed them to match the best 18-game start in Washington baseball history.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 10, Rochester 5: John Lannan allowed four earned runs in seven innings on eight hits and four walks, striking out three. Bryce Harper went 1 for 3 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt. Mark Teahen and Jason Michaels each hit grand slams. Corey Brown went 2 for 4 with a walk.
Harrisburg 8, Altoona 0: Coming off a complete-game shutout, Daniel Rosenbaum allowed no runs in seven innings on three hits and two walks, striking out two. He lowered his season ERA to 0.94. Sandy Leon went 3 for 4 with a double. Chris Rahl went 2 for 5 with two doubles.
Winston-Salem 14, Potomac 0: Potomac managed two hits. Michael Taylor went 0 for 2 with a walk, lowering his average to .218. Matthew Grace allowed five earned runs on six hits and three RBI, striking out one.
Hagerstown 24, Rome 2: The Suns really scored 24 runs. They pounded 24 hits, went 14 for 33 with men in scoring position and still left 16 men on base. Steven Souza went 4 for 6 with a triple, a homer, a walk and nine RBI. Jason Martinson went 3 for 6 with a double and five RBI. Taylor Hill allowed one earned run in five innings on five hits and no walks, striking out none.