Apr 30, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
It has been easily forgotten because of everything that has transpired since, but it’s worth a friendly reminder: Adam LaRoche carried an injury-plagued Nationals’ lineup during the first two months of the 2012 season.
While Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos all spent time on the disabled list, LaRoche was the one constant offensive producer for the Nationals in April and May that season. He led the club in homers, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, delivering clutch hit after clutch hit for a team that burst out of the gates en route to an MLB-best 98-win season.
And two years later, history is repeating itself. With Zimmerman, Ramos and now Bryce Harper all on the DL, it’s LaRoche who once again is carrying the Nationals’ lineup, delivering big hits all over the place to help keep his team afloat during trying times.
Tuesday night’s 4-3 win in Houston was merely the latest example. With the Nationals trailing late, LaRoche brought them back. His eighth-inning double off the wall in left-center brought Werth home and tied the game. A few minutes later, his ninth-inning RBI single to right scored Denard Span and gave the Nationals the lead for good.
With one day remaining in April, LaRoche is hitting .312 with a .413 on-base percentage, .495 slugging percentage, four homers and 17 RBI.
How does that compare to his hot start to the 2012 season? Well, he finished that April with a .329 batting average, .415 on-base percentage, .549 slugging percentage, four homers and 17 RBI.
Yeah, the resemblance is uncanny. Which begs the question: Does LaRoche feel right now like he did in April 2012?
“It’s hard to say, because I don’t remember how I felt last week,” he said with a laugh over the weekend. “That was two years ago. But it feels good. It’s nice, especially coming back from last year, to contribute a little more and be in the middle of this.”
Remember how LaRoche was among the Nationals’ biggest question marks entering the season, coming off the worst full-season of his career with more than a few observers wondering if the 34-year-old was effectively done? Nobody’s asking that question right now, testament to LaRoche’s offseason work to add weight after dropping to under 200 pounds last summer, not to mention his ability to avoid the frustration and overcompensating that often comes with this territory.
“I think a little more of having a plan and not going up and just kinda flailing away,” he said. “Going up with a little bit of a gameplan. And if he happens to leave something up, a good pitch to hit early, great. If not, be patient in there and wait for it.”
LaRoche also has made great strides in taking what the opposing pitcher gives him. With nearly every club shifting infielders to the right side in anticipation of him pulling the ball, LaRoche has become quite adept at going the other way. He already has 12 opposite-field hits in 25 games. For comparison’s sake, he only had 34 total opposite-field hits in 152 games last season.
It’s still early, and LaRoche has always been prone throughout his career to extended slumps. But the results so far look an awful lot like the results he produced in 2012.
And that’s as encouraging a sign as the Nationals have seen so far during a tumultuous opening month to 2014.
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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