Adam LaRoche is a historically slow starter with a career .215 average in the month of April, far and away his lowest monthly average in statistical splits. But in 2013 he has been even worse than usual, sitting at a .143 clip on April 29 with 25 strikeouts in 21 games.
And after going 0-for-4 in Sunday’s loss to the Reds, LaRoche is now on a 26 at-bat hitless streak with 13 strikeouts to boot. Slow starter or not, things are getting out of hand.
The ten-year veteran is used to having trouble out of the gate, he usually comes out of it at some point and finds his stroke. This run of misfortune, however, has him really searching.
“I don't know. I don't know what to tell you,” he said. “I've got one of two options here. I either keep my head up, keep swinging or pack up and go home. I'm not ready to go home yet.”
When LaRoche does make contact it seems to either go foul or right into an opponent’s glove. He said he is hitting too defensively because he keeps finding himself behind in counts. On Sunday he was behind 0-2 in three of his four at-bats and fell behind 1-2 the other.
“I feel like every at-bat right now I'm 1-2. Before the at-bat even starts I feel like I've got a strike or two on me,” he said.
“It's tough to hit like that. It's tough to hit in a defensive mode and I've never been successful hitting on the defensive side so I'm going to stay aggressive and expect it to turn.”
On Sunday against the Reds LaRoche's frustration perhaps boiled over in the fifth inning. He was up with the bases loaded and two outs, but struck out looking on an outside fastball from lefty Tony Cingrani. He tossed the bat dramatically and had a lengthy conversation with home umpire Sam Holbrook before walking to the dugout.
LaRoche was dropped to sixth in the lineup for Sunday's game as he continues to search for his stroke. He said manager Davey Johnson has been supportive throughout the stretch, trusting LaRoche as a veteran to be honest with himself.
“He's been great,” LaRoche said. “He gave me the option [Sunday] to play or to sit. He's doing everything he can. I've been working just picking everybody's brain so if somebody can pinpoint something I'm not seeing. I'll continue to watch film and work through it.”
LaRoche has been watching film of his good at-bats from this season and comparing them to his current stretch, looking for positives. He has also been taking extra batting practice before games. Watching his progress closely, Johnson is confident he will pull through.
“It’s just little things. His timing is a little off,” Johnson said. “Maybe his pitch selection is a little off. Trying to make something happen. But he’s a veteran hitter and a good player. He’ll be fine, he’ll come around.”
Davey said he was surprised at LaRoche’s forgettable April because he was so good last season, the first year he coached him. In 2012 LaRoche bucked the trend by hitting .329 with four home runs and 17 RBI in the season’s first month.
Johnson is looking to see more from LaRoche at the plate, but also sees value in the first baseman’s defense, perhaps enough to give him more leeway than the average player. The Nats manager is at least pleased with part of LaRoche’s game and thinks the other half will come around soon.
“He contributes so much just defensively. I like him out there,” Johnson said.
“But his bat will come around. It’ll be nice to get [Ramos] back tomorrow and we’ll get Zim soon, so it’ll pick-up.”