For some veterans, facing a knuckleballer right out of the chute after an extended injury absence would be a recipe for disaster.
LaRoche, who had been sidelined by left shoulder soreness and a mild left ankle sprain, made his first Grapefruit League appearance Saturday as part of a Nationals split squad that faced the Mets at Space Coast Stadium. In his first at-bat, he hit an RBI single off knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey, driving in the first run in a three-run inning. LaRoche later scored on a two-run double by Wilson Ramos.
No worries about timing being messed up by the gimmick pitch. Just solid contact from a guy who didn’t look like he’d missed almost a week of game action.
“It felt all right,” LaRoche told reporters afterward. “Shoot, that was all I needed to do, just run a little bit around the bases. Stop go, do some of that, see how it felt. It felt pretty good. Not great, but good enough now. I hope it progresses every day for the next four or five days and get rid of it.”
LaRoche has been working hard on the back fields over the past handful of days to convince manager Davey Johnson his ankle was fine. LaRoche said he’s experiencing no pain in his surgically repaired shoulder, though he’s yet to cut loose a hard throw in a game situation.
“Man, I needed that bad, I needed to go down there, for nothing else than just see pitches, see a guy going through the delivery,” LaRoche said. “You can only get so much out of live BP when they’re telling you what’s coming. So when you’re up there, kind of in game mode, that’s the best way I can prepare for this. That definitely helped.”
LaRoche finished 1-for-2 in his spring debut before being replaced by Tyler Moore at first after three innings. LaRoche said he would accompany the Nationals to Jupiter, Fla., where they play the Cardinals on Sunday.
Meanwhile, right-hander Chien-Ming Wang also made his first appearance in a spring game against the Mets, working two innings. He allowed two runs on three hits, walked one and struck out a batter.
“Today, the outing is OK, but sometimes the ball (was) too low, didn’t hit the strike zone,” Wang said.
He threw 42 pitches, 25 for strikes. Wang weathered a 28-pitch second inning when the Mets scored twice.
Washington leads the Mets 8-2 in the top of the eighth inning.
Wang, whose first start was delayed by right shoulder stiffness, said his timing was still a little off, something he thinks will be corrected by throwing more pitches in future starts.
“I stay healthy first and try to do more and more. ... Basically, each time (is) better every time,” he said. “Not 100 percent -the timing, the throwing motion.”
In Lakeland, Fla., where a Nationals split squad is playing the Tigers, lefty John Lannan went two innings, yielding two runs on four hits. He walked one and struck out two.
Corey Brown’s solo homer off Detroit closer Jose Valverde tied the game at 4-4 in the seventh.
Update: In the eighth, Andres Blanco has homered off Joaquin Benoit, putting the Nationals up 5-4.