Right now, pitchers are laughing at him. Maybe somewhere, a few deer in Kansas and points west are snickering, too. When you have a buck and a duck tattooed, one on each shoulder, you can’t expect universal sympathy.
They better enjoy it. LaRoche’s slumps feel like they last forever, especially to him; but they follow a career-long pattern that’s haunted him for 10 years, especially in spring when he has had eight nightmare Aprils. His little droughts last about 15 hitless at-bats in a row; the really horrendous ones, like the eyesore that continued Sunday, when he stranded five runners in a 5-2 Nats defeat to the Reds, last for about 30 at-bats. Then he usually erupts.
How does it feel to be LaRoche at the plate right now, constantly behind in counts, chasing bad pitches, batting .135 and feeling for the ball tentatively with his long graceful swing, yet not really attacking the pitch?
“Probably about as good as it looks,” he said, grimly. “I’ve been through a bunch of ’em. Last year, one of them took three weeks.”
On low pitches that fool him, he looks like a farmer using a stick to poke at a snake in a ditch bank next to his field. Don’t get too close to that thing.
“I feel like every at-bat right now, I feel like I’m 1-2. Before the at-bat even starts, I feel like I’ve got a strike or two on me,” LaRoche said. “It would be a lot less stressful to be a .270 hitter all year long instead of hitting .350 one month and .150 the next. But again, that’s me. You look at [my] inconsistencies throughout the year [yet] the overall numbers seem to be very consistent every year.”
What can LaRoche do after going 0-for-a-homestand?
“I’ve got one of two options here,” he said. “I can keep my head up, keep swinging, or pack up and head home. I’m not ready to go home yet.”
That’s good. If he’d let a slump comparable to the one he’s in now send him packing, he’d have gone back to his farm eight times in 10 seasons.
As a rookie, LaRoche was hitting .207 on May 1. Maybe it got in his head. The next year, on May 3, he was batting .209. The following three years, always on that familiar May 2 or May 3, he was hitting .195, .137 and .167. That has been the pattern of his career except for two seasons. He also woke up on a day in May with a .222 average in ’09 and .172 in ’11.
LaRoche is so famous for his slumps that he’s a kind of mordant connoisseur of his own annual misery. One year, he was so awful that, in the same season, he went 0 for 20, 0 for 14, 2 for 30 and 2 for 31. In those four tormenting disasters, he went a combined 4 for 95.