Adam LaRoche traffics in stillness. He stands in the batter’s box with the intensity of a shopper browsing tabloids in the checkout line. He possesses an abiding passion for hunting, a main requirement of which is not moving for hours. His voice does not rise loud enough to be heard above a ceiling fan.
In the quality of his performance, LaRoche toggles between extremes. He can swing toothpicks for a month. And then, as he continued doing in a wild, 6-5 victory Friday night over the San Diego Padres, he can almost single-handedly drag the Washington Nationals’ scuffling offense to respectability.
LaRoche smashed two more homers and drove in four runs Friday night, giving him a three-game home run streak to go with a career-best 14-game hitting roll. His continued assault on National League pitching received another boost from fellow red-hot, middle-of-the-order hitter Ryan Zimmerman, who went 2 for 4 with a home run of his own.
LaRoche struggles to explain why he has long been a feast-or-famine hitter, but at age 33 and 10 years into his career, he grudgingly accepts it. In his first 22 games this season, across 81 plate appearances, LaRoche hit .135 with seven walks, four extra-base hits and 28 strikeouts. On April 29, when the Nationals arrived in Atlanta, LaRoche watched film of his swing with his buddy Chipper Jones, the legendary Braves third baseman.
In the 17 games since, a period of 69 plate appearances, LaRoche has hit .339 with nine walks and six extra-base hits. His overall numbers still lag below even league-average. Ever since his session with Jones, though, LaRoche is a force.
“Don’t think he hasn’t sent some texts to make sure I remember,” LaRoche said.
The difference is subtle. LaRoche could not identify any pivotal change. “He looks exactly the same,” Zimmerman said.
The Nationals’ offense has needed him, because they have received production from few sources outside the portion of their lineup that stretches from Bryce Harper through Ian Desmond.
Zimmerman, like LaRoche, has used May to shed a lousy April. This month, Zimmerman is hitting .349 with an on-base percentage over .450. After a fan launched Zimmerman’s back into the field, LaRoche clobbered another home, this one over the wall in center field.
Together, they’ve given punch to an otherwise lifeless lineup. Before Chad Tracy’s game-winning homer in the 10th inning Friday night, the Nationals outside Harper, Zimmerman and LaRoche went 1 for 23 with 11 strikeouts.
Despite his scorching stretch, LaRoche said he is still not yet feeling how he wants at the plate. He offered the two strikeouts that bookended his homers Friday as evidence. Still, he knows he has turned around his season.
“Just keep swinging through it,” he said. He had no other explanation. He stared ahead, his face perfectly still.