Adam LaRoche has his first Gold Glove. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Adam LaRoche had been considered one of the best first basemen in the major leagues for years, and now he has the shimmering, gilded trophy to validate it. LaRoche won the first Gold Glove of his career tonight as the best defensive first baseman in the National League, joining third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in 2009  as the only Nationals to win the award since baseball returned to Washington in 2005.

Shortstop Ian Desmond, the Nationals’ lone other finalist, missed out on his first Gold Glove. Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins beat him out to win the fourth of his career. Desmond’s defensive strides have been one of the most promising developments of recent years for Washington. He made 15 errors this season, 19 fewer than when he led the majors in his rookie season in 2010.

Only LaRoche claimed hardware Tuesday night, beating out fellow finalists Joey Votto of the Reds and Freddie Freeman of the Braves. His statistics backed up his worthiness: LaRoche did not make a throwing error all season, and only two qualifying NL first basemen made fewer errors. His .995 fielding percentage ranked second. LaRoche finished second to Votto among NL first basemen with a 6.1 Ultimate Zone Rating, the catch-all metric used by to determine defensive value.

But LaRoche’s value was hard to measure with only stats. His slick hands around first base took the Nationals’ infield to a different level. Danny Espinosa, Zimmerman and Desmond all had above-average range for their position, and LaRoche’s ability to vacuum throws in the dirt ensured it would not be wasted. Any ball thrown near him could usually be counted on as an out.

LaRoche backed up his defense with perhaps the best offensive season of his career. LaRoche mashed 33 home runs and drove in 100 runs, hitting .271/.343/.510. Because of the nature of Gold Glove voting, LaRoche’s offense surely helped his cause.

LaRoche’s throwing accuracy came during a season in which he didn’t know if he would be able to throw at full strength. LaRoche arrived in spring training in the final stages of recovering from the labrum surgery on his left shoulder that cut short his first season in Washington after 43 games. The strength gradually came back, and it never affected him.

LaRoche, 32, can become a free agent on Saturday if he and the Nationals cannot reach a multi-year deal. LaRoche wants to stay in Washington, but he will decline his half of a $10 million mutual option for 2013 in an effort to secure the multi-year deal his 2012 season warrants.

Now when LaRoche goes to bargain for his new contract, he can point to the Gold Glove on his mantle. LaRoche had not won a major award in his career until now. He is no longer one of the best first basemen in the majors by reputation. He is one of the best by recognition.

Here are the full Gold Glove teams:

National League

P Mark Buehrle, Marlins

C Yadier Molina, Cardinals

1B Adam LaRoche, Nationals

2B Darwin Barney, Cubs

3B Chase Headley, Padres

SS Jimmy Rollins, Phillies

LF Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies

CF Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

RF Jason Heyward, Braves

American League

P Jake Peavy, White Sox

P Jeremy Hellickson, Rays

C Matt Wieters, Orioles

1B Mark Teixeira, Yankees

2B Robinson Cano, Yankees

3B Adrian Beltre, Rangers

SS J.J. Hardy, Orioles

LF Alex Gordon, Royals

CF Adam Jones, Orioles

RF Josh Reddick, A’s