LaRoche still uncertain about return from shoulder injury


(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Two weeks ago, less than two months into his painful first season as the Washington Nationals’ first baseman, Adam LaRoche visited a shoulder specialist in New York to find a solution to the torn labrum in his left shoulder. He wanted to be healthy, and he wanted clarity. LaRoche found neither, and he still wonders whether or not he will play again this season.

“Flip a coin, buddy,” LaRoche said Thursday afternoon. “Don’t know.”

Given the lack of progress with his ailing shoulder over the course of the past two weeks, LaRoche’s chances of returning this season seem grimmer than 50-50. LaRoche has not made a final decision to have season-ending surgery to repair the tear in his labrum that surfaced during spring training and affected him all season. But he has not felt any progress, and he will meet with Nationals officials Monday to determine his next step, which includes the possibility of significant surgery.

After resting his shoulder and not performing any baseball activities for more than two weeks, LaRoche started throwing again Tuesday and has played toss the past three days. His shoulder feels “the same,” he said. “When I get up to about 50 percent, it starts to bite a little bit.”

In Washington, LaRoche had worked with physical therapists, wanting to improve the strength and fitness of his shoulder with an eye on a return this season. When he threw again and felt no improvement, it was difficult to swallow.

“I was hoping it would” start feeling better, LaRoche said. “After two weeks of two hours of rehab every day, I was hoping we could strengthen it enough. Whether it’s the tear or muscles around it, I don’t know. It does not feel great. It’s frustrating.”

The frustration this year for LaRoche has gone beyond his physical issues. Since he showed up the first day of spring training and throwing caused unfamiliar pain in his shoulder, LaRoche has tried varied means of improving his health. He received an MRI exam and a cortisone shot at the end of the spring. He took an occasional day off. He tried rest and rehab. Nothing, so far, has worked.

“I would like to talk to somebody to figure out a way for sure to know which direction to go,” LaRoche said. “Everybody I’ve talked to says the same thing — just got to try it and see what works. If there was proof that two or three more works would do it, that would be more refreshing than, ‘We’ll have to wait and see.’ ”

LaRoche has not abandoned hope for the entirety of 2011 yet. This weekend, he will swing a bat to see if his shoulder’s response to hitting has improved. If that also feels the same, “then we’ll probably have to do something about it,” LaRoche said.

Monday, when the Nationals return home, LaRoche will meet with Manager Jim Riggleman, General Manager Mike Rizzo and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz to “make sure everybody is on the same page,” he said.

In January, the Nationals signed LaRoche, 31, to a two-year contract worth $16 million guaranteed, replacing Adam Dunn at first base with a slick-fielding, reliable veteran. LaRoche provided outstanding defense, as expected, but his shoulder issues thrust him into an awful slump. In 43 games, LaRoche hit .172/.288/.258. He insisted it did not hurt his shoulder to swing, but finally admitted the lack of strength had affected his hitting.

Michael Morse’s emergence at first base has blunted the loss of LaRoche. Since LaRoche played his last game May 21, Morse has hit .362/.421/.754 with seven home runs, tied for most in the National League over that span. While carrying the Nationals’ offense, Morse has also played flawless, often outstanding, defense at first base, where he had previously started only 12 games in his major league career.

LaRoche said sitting out in his first season with a new team, and dealing with an injury this severe for the first time, has worn on him. He still hopes he has not played his last game this season. The prospect that he will not, that his dispiriting first season is over, has sunk in.

“It’s killing me to be away from the guys and then not being out there and playing,” LaRoche said.

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