(Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

After receiving treatment today, LaRoche believes the soreness is more likely an external bruise than an internal strain.

“I feel better today then I do yesterday, especially when I heard guys that had this miss six weeks and it lingers the whole year,” LaRoche said. “I’m not saying we’re in the clear. But it hasn’t gotten worse. It’s definitely gotten better.”

Two days ago, he felt pain in his side when trainers pushed against his shoulder. Today, he did not. “That’s a good sign,” LaRoche said.

Even with the improvement, “he’s still tender,” Johnson said. LaRoche first felt the injury Wednesday night and was scratched from the lineup Thursday. The pain has progressed, LaRoche said, more like a bruise than a strain or tear.

“It just feels like I got drilled in the ribs,” LaRoche said. “It feels like a bruise, like something on the outside. I’m hoping it wasn’t a swinging thing. I hope it was diving and landing on it.”

If LaRoche does have a strain, he would likely miss at least three weeks. He has been the Nationals’ best hitter this season, batting .311/.392/.511. With Michael Morse out for the first half of the season and Ryan Zimmerman having missed roughly two weeks, LaRoche’s injury came at the wrong time for an offense struggling to score.

“Not that the timing is ever good on it,” LaRoche said. “But with Mikey and Zim out, it’s not good.”