A little more strength makes all the difference for LaRoche

VIERA, Fla. - The swing is free and easy, and Adam LaRoche hopes that he can soon throw with more strength. The Nationals first baseman can finally cut loose a throw without worrying that lingering soreness would inhibit his movement for a couple of days or more.

Having his left shoulder surgically repaired in June turned out to be the right course of action for the 32-year-old LaRoche, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal with Washington last offseason and lasted only 43 games, with a .172 batting average, three homers and 15 RBIs.

“It honestly feels like I took the whole year off,” LaRoche said Monday. “I feel like a new player. It’s all having a little bit of strength back.”

That strength wasn’t present last spring, when LaRoche’s shoulder weakness first affected his throwing, which in turn robbed him of his power. He tried to play through the pain until he realized he wasn’t helping his new team.

“Obviously, I needed to have something done, but if I’d have had it done in spring training, I’d have looked back and said, ‘Should I have given it a shot?’ I gave it 40, 50 games - whatever it was - and it didn’t work,” he said. “It was miserable, to say the least, to have to sit and watch the majority of the season and not be able to do anything about it. But now, looking back, it’s worth it, because everything so far feels great.”

Tentative swings in December and January have yielded hopeful results even before position players have to report to camp. It’s only flip pitches in the cage, but LaRoche sees the difference.

“I wouldn’t even say it’s there yet, as far as 100 percent,” he said. “But it was the first couple of weeks of hitting when I started getting excited (and feeling like) this is turning out to be really good, it feels really good. I have every hope that by the end of camp it’s going to be really good swinging and I think throwing will eventually come.”

The Nationals signed LaRoche after he posted a career-high 100 RBIs and matched a career best with 25 homers for the Diamondbacks in 2010. He feels like he’s finally in a position to replicate those numbers in D.C.

Even rumors that the Nationals were trying to sign free agent first baseman Prince Fielder this winter didn’t trouble LaRoche, even though Fielder’s arrival probably would have meant his departure.

“You know what? I never was upset about it. ... If anything, I’ve got respect for this team for trying to make us better any way they can,” he said. “If I was the guy it fell on, so be it. But I think it shows the direction they’re trying to go. ... If you get a player like that who’s a game-changer for the long term, I would have totally understood. (But) I’m glad it didn’t work out, I’m glad to be back here.”

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