Nats need LaRoche to buck trend again, get off to hot start

Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche has been known as a very consistent hitter and a solid defensive performer who had trouble at the plate early on each season. That was the trend until last season when he had an unusually strong start with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

So what did he change last year to get off on the right foot?

"Absolutely nothing," LaRoche said last week.

But LaRoche is definitely aware of his career numbers.

"Obviously, early on, it got frustrating having a slow start and totally opposite first and second halves," LaRoche said. "It is something now where, at the end of the year, I am in a pretty good spot.

"Last year definitely helped. I didn't change anything, I didn't do anything different is preparation for the offseason. It is was just one of those years where it started clicking early. It was good to have that personally, to know that this isn't a yearly thing. Hopefully, I am breaking out of that."

Break down LaRoche's career batting statistics by month on baseball-reference.com and his best month is August (.314, 38 homers, 111 RBIs). July (.289) and September/October (.287) are a close second. March/April are far and away his worst (.211, 20 home runs, 77 RBIs).

Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic told me LaRoche had tried everything: from starting his offseason training earlier or later, adjusting hitting and strength training, but could not see any discernible difference as to why March, April and May were cold starts at the plate.

Fast forward to 2010 with a bad Arizona Diamondbacks team, and LaRoche turned his career averages upside down.

August was still his best month (.333, nine homers, 23 RBIs). But March/April came in a strong second (.296, four homers, 17 RBIs). June was also up high on the list in run production (.222, five homers, 20 RBIs). May was steady (.253, two homers, 11 RBIs).

LaRoche says he likes the 3-4-5 hitters the Nationals have assembled and feels he will fit in well with Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth.

"It will be a really good situation," LaRoche said. "It will be nice to help protect those guys. However we work out the lineup, that is not up to me. I have always said I like to be in a position to drive in runs. There are teams where that has happened in the three-, four-hole. There are teams where I hit sixth and had plenty of opportunities. I think we can all help each other, help protect each other, and feed off of that."

Considering rough out-of-the-gate play has doomed the Nationals the past two seasons, and how the early season schedule is slanted towards big games against National League East opponents, it would be a boost for the Nationals if LaRoche, Zimmerman and Werth can get off to a good start offensively to take the pressure off a starting pitching staff that will be looking to settle in to a nice rhythm of consistency in 2011.

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