LaRoche is still a long way from moving off the couch and to the field. But when he dropped by the Nationals clubhouse yesterday, he reported only good news about the rehab from left shoulder surgery, which he underwent in May to repair a torn labrum.

LaRoche remains on schedule to arrive at spring training next year full strenghth, he said. LaRoche no longer feels pain (“I’m so far past that stage”) and has increased the strengthening exercises he can perform, including lifting small weights over his head and enhanced resistance with rubber bands. LaRoche has yet to throw or hit, but he is eager.

“I was going to ask them when that point is,” LaRoche said. “I can’t play this year, obviously, so there’s no need to push it back to November. I don’t know, I’m ready to start throwing and hitting. It feels really good. Really good. I haven’t had a major hang-up yet. Hopefully that continues.”

LaRoche works out at Nationals Park on mornings when the team is home and often hangs out in the clubhouse before games. While sitting out, LaRoche has seen Michael Morse thrive at the position the Nationals reserved for LaRoche when they gave him a two-year, $16 million contract.

When LaRoche went down, Morse had lost his everyday job in left field and started platooning with Laynce Nix. His surgery enabled Morse play every day and emerge as one the National League’s top hitters – he’s batted .339/.396/.626 since he took over at first base, which ranks first, fifth and first in the National League since May 22.

One day this season, LaRoche joked with Morse, “You owe me part of your next year’s salary.”

Manager Davey Johnson said this week that the Nationals will likely move Morse to left field to accommodate LaRoche at first base. “I told him not to get too comfortable. I’m too slow to play the outfield,” LaRoche said. “I said, ‘You can run a little bit. They can move you out there.’ ”

LaRoche will have a position waiting for him when he returns. Either way, he was glad to watch Morse’s emergence. “You get in a situation and get stuck there, you just kind of consider yourself a platoon guy, a couple times a week,” LaRoche said. “And then to be able to jump into and take advantage of it, it’s great.”