VIERA, Fla. — On the heels of a hugely disappointing season, Adam LaRoche has plenty of reason to approach the upcoming year as a fresh start. In his case, that apparently also includes a thick, lustrous beard that might make his pals from Duck Dynasty jealous.
"I just didn't shave it for a while," LaRoche explained. "And then I didn't shave it for a while longer. And then I just never shaved. Plus, the crew I hang out with, I'm the odd man out if I don't have a beard."
The 34-year-old first baseman reported to camp on Monday — 12-year-old son Drake in tow, of course — and began the process of putting a forgettable 2013 behind him. His first step: surgery to remove a couple of bone chips in his left elbow.
LaRoche said he never experienced any discomfort in the elbow until the final two days of the season, when he felt something while trying to swing in a batting tunnel at Arizona's Chase Field. An MRI late revealed the bone chips, which were removed via arthroscopic surgery in October.
LaRoche wouldn't attribute any of his season-long struggles — he hit .237 with 20 homers, 62 RBI and a .735 OPS — to the injury.
"No. Because I never felt it," he said. "I didn't feel it until that last series. And it could've happened the day before, two years before, who knows?"
The surgery wasn't considered major, but the two-month recovery did prevent LaRoche from getting an early jump on his biggest offseason priority: gaining weight. He dropped all the way down to 190 pounds last summer, the lightest he's been since college, and believes it was a byproduct of his ADD medication. He made a switch during the All-Star break and saw better results, but he still entered the offseason wanting to gain back 15-to-20 pounds. He said he has about five more pounds to go after his post-surgery re-start.
"The surgery set me back a couple of months from being able to do anything, really," he said. "It was frustrating, but I had to do it. I had to get those bone chips taken out. Thankfully it was just a scope and not a major deal. But after two months, I was able to start working on it again."
LaRoche now reunites with Matt Williams, who was his first base coach with the Diamondbacks in 2010 and who he described as "awesome." Since being named the Nationals' manager in November, Williams has spoken with his veteran first baseman several times and emerged confident he will bounce back from his disappointing season.
"I just think he's too good a player," Williams said. "Sometimes, there are years like that. There's no rhyme or reason for it. I think he's healthy and I think he feels good. He'll be a big part of it, because we need him. And he'll play a lot over there."
LaRoche has been in a similar situation; he entered 2012 wanting to rebound from an injury-plagued and unproductive inaugural season in Washington. His motivation entering 2014, though, is less about redeeming himself and more about helping the Nationals take a significant leap forward after a collectively disappointing 2013.
"We totally underachieved last year," he said. "No excuse there. Offensively terrible for the first three months or whatever it was. You try to come back and pinpoint that and what we can do to correct it and get off to a better start."