“I said, ‘Drake, you’re exactly right,’ ” LaRoche said.
In Saturday afternoon’s 7-4 win over the Cubs, LaRoche redeemed his three-strikeout opening day with his best game as a National. LaRoche smacked a career-best four hits — three singles and a two-run, fourth-inning homer — that reassured him about the fitness of his surgically repaired left shoulder.
With the count 2-2 against Matt Garza in the fourth, LaRoche turned around a 95-mph fastball, lining it halfway up the right field foul pole. LaRoche had not hit a home run since April 24 of last season, when the torn labrum in his left shoulder prevented him from swinging with authority.
“I don’t know that I could have got to that last year,” LaRoche said. “There were a lot of pitches, even when I was feeling really good last year, a lot of pitches I felt like I should have killed. I would just miss them. I’d foul them back or fly out. I was not able to get the bat head to it. I’ve been feeling a lot better this year.”
LaRoche shrugged off his horrendous opening game, when he missed wildly at several pitches. “I just wasn’t seeing it,” he said. “I was fighting it, trying to get in there. It was one of those days. I was able to come out and just see it better today, better pitch selection. I wasn’t chasing the pitches I was yesterday.”
In 48 hours, playing in the same park, LaRoche’s ability to pick up the ball had gone from terrible to perfect. The difference in pitchers, from Ryan Dempster to Garza, may have had something to do with the improvement.
“I don’t know, but I can do that with the best of them,” LaRoche said. “For whatever reason. I mean, that’s just baseball.”
The Nationals’ confidence that LaRoche would bounce back this season after his dreadful, injury-plagued 45 games last year, helped convince them to make no significant additions to their offense this winter. They may not have counted on a performance like LaRoche’s so early in the season.For his carerr, he has hit .207/.303/.383 in April.
“Well, I mean, he can hit,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I don’t put much stock in he’s a slow starter. Every year’s a new year, and there’s a pretty good feeling on this ballclub — offensive feeling that we can hit, and we showed that today.”