The groundball rolled off Matt Adams’s bat toward first base, the chance Adam LaRoche had waited for since last May. Yadier Molina bolted from third base. When LaRoche fielded the ball, he pivoted, squared his shoulder to home plate and didn’t think twice.
His throw home did not have the kind of zip it would have before LaRoche’s surgery, but it arrived in plenty of time. Jesus Flores tagged out Molina, and LaRoche assured himself his shoulder can handle a snap decision in a real, live game.
“I didn’t have the normal – usually, it’s just real easy and it’s got some life on it,” LaRoche said. “I’ve got to put a little more into now than I would like to. It was nice I didn’t throw it up in the press box. I know where it’s going.”
LaRoche’s sidearm throw was somewhere between a rope and lollipop. LaRoche knows he may not have 100 percent arm strength in his shoulder by opening day, and maybe not for another year. But he also feels confident the injury and the surgery is behind him. And, if he has to, he can make a stronger throw than he made today.
“I’ve got a little more in the tank than that,” LaRoche said. “That was just, get it there in time. If I need to rush something or throw across to third, I’ve got a little more than that. The way it’s progressing, I think two weeks from now it’ll be even better. I’m fine with that, if that’s the way it is. But I think it’s going to get better. Keep doing what I’m doing, so far, no setbacks.”
If not for a sprained ankle. LaRoche surely would have made his first game throw before now. Instead, LaRoche played in just his third game of the spring today. He still treats his ankle.
“We got it wrapped up pretty tight,” LaRoche said. “I’m really hoping to not have to do this forever. Hopefully I can get rid of that wrap and it’ll get back to normal. It’s good enough to play right now and at least see some pitching. It’s not great running bases yet, but a lot better than it was.”
LaRoche, a notorious slow starter, is 1 for 4 with a single and a walk in three games. He gained confidence at the plate by tracking pitches last week during minor league intrasquad games.
“I’m seeing it pretty good,” LaRoche said. “I don’t have any complaints.”
>>> Jordan Zimmermann produced the ugliest line of any Nationals starter this spring, but he did not care at all. Zimmermann allowed four runs on seven hits before Davey Johnson pulled him with two outs in the fourth inning, when Zimmermann had reached 58 pitches. But he felt great about it.
“I felt better today than I did the last start,” Zimmermann said. “Fastball command was definitely there today. I felt like I could throw it wherever I wanted to. I threw a few good change-ups. It wasn’t a lot of hard-hit balls. Maybe a couple. But there was a lot of little bloopers. So that’s a good sign. I’m not hitting the barrel.”
The Cardinals’ biggest damage came when David Freese drilled a three-run homer to right field. A stiff breeze gusted out to right, which certainly helped. Zimmermann threw a fastball on the inside third of the plate, but Freese still managed to hit a home run to the opposite field.
“I just don’t really understand how he could hit it that way,” Zimmermann said. “The wind’s howling pretty good today. I’m not going to say the wind pushed it out, but it probably would have been a routine fly ball anywhere.”
Zimmermann pounded the strike zone, throwing 40 strikes and 18 balls. But Johnson thought Zimmermann at times left the ball over the plate too much. Zimmermann put two strikes on seven of the 17 batters he faced, but he finished with no strikeouts.
His most encouraging moment may have come with his change-up. Zimmermann, after years of trying, has finally found a change-up he feels comfortable with. He threw only one in his first start. Today, he threw three or four, and Adams swung at one of them and missed.
“I felt pretty good about that,” Zimmermann said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a swing-and-miss change-up before. That was a good sign, I guess.”
>>> Before Matt Purke was reassigned to minor league camp, he got one last moment to take with him. He struck out Cardinals star slugger Matt Holliday swinging, part his scoreless 1 1/3 innings. When asked about the at-bat, Purke kept an even, professional keel.
“Just another hitter,” he said. “You get caught up in the kind of stuff, and it takes you down the wrong path. My goal is to go out there and put my team in the best position.”