LaRoche homers in return to lineup

LaRoche homers in return to lineup
March 29, 2011, 8:36 pm
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011, 4:34 p.m.
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By Mark Zuckerman
Nationals Insider
CSNwashington.com

VIERA, Fla. -- Adam LaRoche insists he's not concerned about the state of his left shoulder, and if his performance Tuesday was any indication, the Washington Nationals first baseman may be right about that.

Playing in his first exhibition game since receiving a cortisone shot to alleviate the slight labrum tear in his throwing shoulder, LaRoche homered, drew a pair of walks and looked comfortable in the field.

He's still not ready to cut loose with throws, but he hopes he'll be able to start doing that soon.

"It feels great," he said. "That shot, so far, has done exactly what we want it to do. Whether it took some of the inflammation out or just oiled it up a little bit, either way it's feeling noticeably better."

Sidelined for three days over the weekend to rest his shoulder after an MRI revealed the slight tear, LaRoche made it back for the Nationals' Grapefruit League finale (an 8-2 loss to the Mets). He clubbed a solo homer off New York reliever Pedro Beato in the fourth, his first of the spring, and walked in his two other plate appearances before departing.

The injury has no affect on LaRoche's swing, as was evidenced by both Tuesday's homer and his overall offensive performance this spring. He finished with a .381 average and 11 RBI in 15 games.

At first base, LaRoche looked perfectly comfortable fielding the only groundball hit his way Tuesday, as well as receiving throws from other infielders.

Though he's not currently able to throw with full velocity, LaRoche insisted he can play the full season in his current state.

"It's annoying, because I like to be able to throw a little bit when I need to," he said. "But it's good enough to go. The object of this was to try to get it up to where I can let it go a little bit. And so far, so good."

Doctors have told LaRoche he likely won't need surgery -- even after the season -- to repair the small tear, giving the first baseman less reason to be concerned about his situation in the short or long term.

"I'm really not worried about it at all," he said. "Because from everything I've been told, guys that have had it, it doesn't necessarily get worse unless you go out and do something really stupid. If I went and bench-pressed 300 pounds ... I'd probably tear it some more. So I've got to be cautious with it and make sure I do a ton of back exercises and shoulder stuff, which I've never had to do before. That will be a new thing for me."

Other developments on the Nationals' final day of the spring...

-- Both starter Jordan Zimmermann and reliever Drew Storen got rocked by the Mets lineup, with Zimmermann allowing four runs in the second inning and Storen getting torched for four runs and seven hits in the seventh. Manager Jim Riggleman wasn't overly concerned with either pitcher's performance, citing the success each right-hander had enjoyed in recent weeks. Zimmermann, who didn't surrender a run in four of his six starts this spring, blamed poor tempo for his second-inning struggles Tuesday. "I was working pretty fast the second inning," he said. "The only thing I wish I could change is to slow down a little bit. I was grabbing the ball and going and got a little ahead of myself." Storen, meanwhile, finished with an unsightly 11.12 spring ERA but had three consecutive scoreless appearances prior to this one.

-- Sean Burnett capped off a perfect spring with another scoreless inning of relief. The left-hander wound up with a 0.00 ERA in 9 13 innings and didn't issue a walk until his final outing. Will that dominance now carry over into the regular season? "All in all, we'll see what happens in April," he said. "But it was so far a success. Hopefully we can carry it on."

-- Ivan Rodriguez saw some brief action at first base, a position he could man at some point during 2011. With few right-handed bats on his bench, Riggleman may be tempted to use No. 2 catcher Wilson Ramos as a pinch-hitter on occasion. If that happened, Riggleman said he would probably leave Ramos in the game behind the plate and move Rodriguez to first base in order to avoid needing an emergency catcher should someone get hurt. The 20-year veteran has caught 2,390 games in his career but does have seven games of experience at first base and even spent two innings at second base in a game in 2006.

-- Perhaps the biggest difference between this camp and previous ones, players noted, was the noticeable influence several veteran additions brought to the clubhouse. Burnett said he saw veterans on more than one occasion this spring speak up when younger teammates needed to be set straight. "In the past, it might have gone a couple weeks," Burnett said. "Here, as soon as it's seen, it's cleaned up and not brought up again. More policing the clubhouse, which is probably good for the manager. It's not Little League anymore. We can police ourselves."

Mark Zuckerman also blogs about the Nationals at natsinsider.com. Contact him at mzuckerman@comcastsportsnet.com and on Twitter @MarkZuckerman.