Adam LaRoche stretched out his strained right quad muscle on Friday for the first time since landing on the disabled list and was stunned that he felt no evidence of the injury that had been hampering him for several weeks, giving the veteran first baseman reason to believe he'll be able to return when eligible on May 25.
"I was really shocked yesterday when I stretched it to the point where it was killing me before and to not feel anything now," LaRoche said Saturday afternoon. "I figured it would be better, but I thought I would feel it. So to not feel it at all, that's why I would think when I'm eligible to come off, I'll be ready."
LaRoche, who was placed on the 15-day DL one week ago, spent four days doing no physical activity, then slowly ramped things up the last few days. He attempted to stretch his right leg back on Friday, pulling it to the point where he had been in significant pain not long ago, and felt nothing.
LaRoche hopes to continue pushing himself on Sunday, perhaps taking a full round of batting practice and running on the field at Nationals Park. He has already been able to hit for several days, the injury never having hindered his swing.
"He's got to pass some tests still," manager Matt Williams said. "He hasn't run, certainly hasn't been full-speed yet. But we're doing everything we can to progress him to the point where he can go out and test it. But it seems to be OK."
Because he has been able to hit these last few days, LaRoche believes he can avoid a minor-league rehab assignment before coming off the DL.
"When it's good enough to play and it's right, I'll be ready to go right then," he said.
LaRoche tried to play through the pain for more than a week. He clearly was hampered on the bases and at times in the field, but he remained the Nationals' most-consistent and productive hitter, sporting a .319 batting average when he was placed on the DL.
So, in hindsight, does he feel he handled the situation the right way?
"Probably not," LaRoche admitted. "But I feel the best about it, because I gave it a shot. The smartest thing is, when you know it's pulled, you shut it down and get it right. And any other position on the field, I would've had to do that. But I'm glad we gave it a shot and gave it a chance to heal while I was playing on it. I gave it a good, 8-to-10 day shot. But then it was crystal clear I had to shut down for two weeks."
The Nationals haven't suffered as much as they might have expected with LaRoche sidelined. Tyler Moore has started six straight games at first base and has seen his production increase (with five hits and five RBI over his last four games).
When given a chance to play everyday in his career, Moore has proven to be a highly effective offensive player. In 38 big-league starts as a first baseman, he's hitting .356 with 1.018 slugging percentage. He's a career .164 hitter when coming off the bench.
"It's great to have Tyler," Williams said. "It's hard, when Adam is playing so well, to get him at-bats at first. He's strictly off the bench til that point. But we've seen with Tyler, when he gets consistent at-bats, he's productive. And a couple years ago, you guys saw that a lot."