(Julio Cortez/AP)

Today, LaRoche warmed up to play catch with Rick Ankiel, and the two men moved apart until they stood almost 150 feet apart. LaRoche kept tossing, the furthest he had thrown since the surgery. It surprised him, how far he could throw.

Still, “it didn’t feel normal,” LaRoche said. LaRoche is improving the strength in his shoulder, and he does not expect his throwing to return to pre-surgery form until long past opening day.

“When they did the surgery, they said it could be up to two years before you don’t feel anything,” LaRoche said. “The good news is, I don’t feel like it’s going to be one hard throw in a game, and it sets me back two or three days. That’s what happened last year. It was just kind of a snowball effect. I don’t expect to have that issue. Even if it’s sore or if it hurts to throw, the muscle is fixed.”

After the surgery, doctors told LaRoche that, after he started, “You’re going to get freaked out and feel like you tore it again.” They assured him that would be a normal part of the process, only scar tissue popping.

LaRoche rehabbed his shoulder this winter with exercises for the muscles around the labrum he had not previously done. “I feel really strong,” he said. “It feels good.”

Most encouraging for LaRoche, he has felt no soreness on the days after he plays catch. He acknowledged that could change once the Nationals start full practices, but for now he feels no discomfort. “I’m just throwing, and the next day I can’t feel a thing,” LaRoche said.

At the plate, LaRoche said he needs to regain his timing. But he feels comfortable taking batting practice, and can sense the difference between swinging with the tear in his labrum and swinging now.

“As far as it feeling like the strength is back, I’m able to drive the ball,” LaRoche said. “There’s no way to tell until we start up. As far as right now, it’s better than I had expected coming back and hitting every day. I thought there would be a couple-week real sore period, and it just hasn’t hit yet. Hopefully, knock on wood, it keeps progressing like this.”

Last winter, LaRoche signed a two-year contract that guaranteed him $16 million. The injury limited him to 45 unproductive games. Trying to play through the labrum tear, LaRoche hit .172/.288/.258 with three homers.

“I feel like we have way more to prove as a team than I do individually,” LaRoche said. “Yeah, we all want to live up to the expectations. We all want to be a huge part in taking this team to some October baseball. That being said, we’ve got to do it as a team. You look around this clubhouse, at the personnel we’ve got, and we’ve got as good a chance as anybody to win a lot of ballgames.

“Individually, I don’t think any more than the next guy. I’m not putting any more pressure on myself to say, I’ve got to double up this year because I didn’t do anything last year. I’m going to stick with what I do. I’m confident that’ll be good enough, along with what everybody else adds, to make this a really good club.”