This morning, LaRoche followed a trainer to the back field next to Space Coast Stadium to take the next step in his recovery. He had turned on his foot, the motion that causes him the most discomfort, in 10 days. He walked to the outfield and jogged in circles.
“It’s not something I can’t play with,” LaRoche said, insisting he’ll be out there at first base on opening day. “It’s been prolonged just as a precaution.”
Manager Davey Johnson has told LaRoche he will use him in a platoon to begin the season, a playing schedule he has openly resisted. The Nationals’ fifth hitter played a quarter of a season last year with a torn labrum in his shoulder. He doesn’t like sitting and watching, but Johnson wants to protect him.
“No comment,” LaRoche said. “That’s how I feel about that.”
Johnson said the position share with Mark DeRosa would not be a strict, left-right platoon. But he planned to limit LaRoche’s exposure because of the shoulder surgery LaRoche underwent last year, even before he twisted his ankle on the third day of spring training.
“With the two nagging injuries, any way that I can cut his playing time with another quality player, I’m going to pursue that,” Johnson said. “It’s not like I’m saying, ‘Adam, at this stage of your career, you’re a platoon.’ . . . He could prove me wrong. Obviously, if he doesn’t play more than one or two games here, he doesn’t have a very good case.”
LaRoche last played in a major league game March 15. His foot has been feeling better each day. The past two days, LaRoche has played in minor league games, taking seven at-bats in a game but not playing the field. He feels that will prepare him for the season.
“When I go down there, as far as seeing pitches, I’m not knocking out two or three games in one day,” LaRoche said. “That’s what I’ve been concerned with the whole time.”
LaRoche could return to major league games by the end of this week. After his running drills with the trainer, he also took groundballs at first base. If his foot responds well, he will run the actual bases tomorrow, another test he has to pass before playing in a full game.
“If it feels fine, they’ll put me in there,” LaRoche said. “If it’s still lingering, I’ll have to wait.”
And the Nationals will not play LaRoche unless they are absolutely sure he can be ready for opening day. Starting tomorrow, an injured player’s stint on the disabled list may only be backdated to their last major league spring training game he played. So if LaRoche plays later this week, it is a sign of the Nationals’ confidence he will be ready at least before April 10, the earliest a player who begins the year on the disabled list could debut.
“I feel like I’ll be fine,” LaRoche said. “I would like to [play] here, just to be on first base, I get to work around the bag defensively. Worst-case, if it doesn’t happen, as long as I continue to get at-bats [in minor league games] I’ll be ready.”
LaRoche insists had he endured the injury during the season, he would have taped it up and not missed any games. For now, he is exercising caution and keeping an even keel.
“I’m over being frustrated with it,” LaRoche said. “It would be a lot harder if they said you can’t go hit at all, just totally just shut down. Because then I would know I’m probably not going to start the season. That would hurt.”