LaRoche’s return can provide calmness to struggling lineup

First baseman Adam LaRoche has been activated and returns to the Nationals lineup this afternoon for the series finale at Pittsburgh. Infielder Zach Walters was sent to Triple-A Syracuse in the corresponding move.

With LaRoche back in the lineup, the bench gets better, with power hitter Tyler Moore now returning to a utility role. Maybe Moore’s return to the bench will also help ignite the backup crew.

But the bigger statement is that with LaRoche returning, the Nationals get a consistent bat, solid defender, big-time leader and crucial middle-of-the-order bat to a lineup searching for answers during their toughest stretch of the season.

The Nationals have lost a season-high four straight games, scoring only seven runs. In Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Pirates, the Nationals generated only five hits and managed to go just 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

When LaRoche was healthy, and even when his quad was hurting, he could still hit. He just could not run at full speed. Prior to being placed on the disabled list on May 10, LaRoche was hitting .313 with 10 hits, one homer, five walks and seven RBIs.

His overall season numbers: a .319 batting average with six doubles, five homers and 21 RBIs. The batting average is by far the best on the team, and he is third in home runs and RBIs even though he has missed 15 days.

But from a bigger picture standpoint, the return of LaRoche’s bat helps ease the pressure off of Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond and others to feel like they have to do it all.

The Nationals have had a difficult time getting two-out hits. LaRoche is batting .308 with two outs and an amazing .486 with one out. With runners in scoring position, LaRoche is hitting .333 and has 15 RBIs.

On a team looking to find any way to score runs right now, those numbers jump out. He can change a ball game with one swing at a critical moment.

But LaRoche can also provide a calmness to the clubhouse and the dugout, like a quarterback returning to the huddle, to get these guys to feel like they don’t have to do it all.

The pitching has kept the Nationals in games. It is the hitting that has struggled for consistency. LaRoche’s return is the first step. And it still isn’t June 1. Now, if they can get Ryan Zimmerman (thumb) back by mid-June, they could find even more cohesion in the lineup.

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