Over the past week, Adam LaRoche has shown signs of snapping out of his trademark season-opening slump. He has reached base 14 of the past 20 plate appearances. Six of those times were walks and one was intentional. After striking out 30 times in the previous 25 games, he has fanned only three times in the past five games. He is 7 for 13 with two doubles.
“It feels good,” he said following Wednesday’s game. “Just being a little more patient overall, taking some walks, getting in some better hitter’s counts. For a week or two there, I felt like I was 1-2 every at-bat and in defensive mode. So getting back to seeing it again is nice.”
The results and improvement have been tangible, but LaRoche cautions he is still not in a completely comfortable groove. He attributed his recent stretch to simply seeing the ball better than before. During his slump, he consulted with hitting coach Rick Eckstein and found there was nothing wrong with his swing or his body. He was just not seeing the ball and missing what he would normally drive.
When the team was in Atlanta, old teammate and friend Chipper Jones, looked at LaRoche’s swing and shared some thoughts. LaRoche’s recent improvement began in the final game in Atlanta when he went 1 for 3 with a double and walk, snapping an 0 for 26 drought
“Just getting comfortable in there again,” LaRoche said. “…Seeing it longer, getting comfortable. Hitting is all about buying that extra split second to see the ball. When you’re not seeing it good, it feels like it’s coming at 100 miles an hour. When you are, you’re slowing the game down.”
On Wednesday against the Tigers, LaRoche lined two singles to left field. LaRoche is a pull hitter who normally faces a defensive shift to the right side. Sending the ball to left field was part strategy but also part of his way to help snap his funk. Three of LaRoche’s seven hits in the past five games have been to the left side, and two each to center and right field. The Braves recognized this in Atlanta and didn’t even use the shift against him.
“I’ve been fighting it to try and stay that way,” he said. “It helps when they shift and you look over there and see one defender and there’s a lot more holes. If I get beat right now on some pitches, that’s fine. I can live with that. I’m not yet in a position yet where I can turn on some balls. When I’m going good, they can take me down and work inside and I can turn on something. We’re getting there.”
Manager Davey Johnson doesn’t necessarily want to see LaRoche hitting the ball to left field because it’s not normally his style. The best sign that LaRoche has completely snapped out of the slump is when he drives the ball to the right side. His last five flyouts have been to center or right field.
“That’s usually what everybody says, ‘When you’re having a problem you go the other way,'” Johnson said. “With him, he’s a pull hitter. I think early on when he was flying out to left was just a little off. When he gets right, he’s generally driving the ball to the right side.”