Mild ankle sprain gives LaRoche chance to rest shoulder (updated)

VIERA, Fla. - A mild left ankle sprain will keep Adam LaRoche out of today’s organized workouts, but the Nationals first baseman expects to throw and hit a little in hopes of being ready to play Sunday for the team’s home Grapefruit League opener against the Astros.

“I don’t want to flare it up any more than it is,” said LaRoche, who injured the ankle in base running drills two days ago. “There’s no point right now risking dragging this thing out for another week if we can knock it out in a couple days. I would rather get some throwing in, get some swings and just try to stay off of it as far as running.”

Asked when he would make his Grapefruit League debut, LaRoche said: “Unless this changes something, I’m planning on playing Sunday.”

LaRoche will derive an added benefit from the scaled-back activity: It will give him time to rest his surgically repaired left shoulder, which had started barking after a couple of days of workouts.

“It’s a soreness that’s not painful,” he said. “Exactly what I need right now to where I know I’m getting some work in and working it enough, but not overly to where it hurts. I guess you could call it a getting-in-shape soreness from stretching it out the last week. A couple days not throwing real hard and staying off of it’s not going to hurt.”

Like most veterans, LaRoche anticipates some minor discomfort as his body adjusts to baseball activity on a regular basis. To make sure the shoulder problem wasn’t anything more serious than that, he underwent some diagnostic range of motion tests performed by team training staff, who were satisfied with the results.

“Timing wasn’t terrible (because) my arm was needing a little break yesterday anyway, so I’ll take a couple a couple of days, do some throwing and swing a little bit today,” LaRoche said. “Keep off the running.”

Manager Davey Johnson’s preference is to give LaRoche some time off this spring and early in the season so he doesn’t push his shoulder too hard too soon. LaRoche tried to play through the pain early in the regular season, but didn’t appear in a game after May 21 and finished with a .172 batting average, three homers and 15 RBIs, far less offense than the Nationals through they were getting when they signed him to a two-year, $16 million contract in January 2011.

LaRoche said that’s fine during spring training, but the veteran plans on being ready for a regular workload during the regular season.

“I’m not planning on the beginning of the season at all,” LaRoche said. “I’m hoping by then, I’m ready to go out and play every day. Early in spring, definitely - and not a lot different from the past. Last year in camp here, it was get a couple of at-bats, take a day off, do that for a couple of weeks. I think the goal is, the last week or 10 days of spring to be able to get some nine-inning games in and be ready to go. I think his concern is not wearing guys out, especially guys who know their role already, and try to keep everybody fresh.”

LaRoche joked with reporters that the ankle injury wouldn’t prevent him from his goal of getting at least 10 stolen bases in 2013. He has five swipes in his career, and only one since 2009.

“I talked to (Jayson) Werth, he’s going to walk me through it,” LaRoche said. “I’m going to be looking in at him in the dugout and he’s going to tell me whether to go or not. That way, I’ve got somebody to blame it on if I get thrown out.”

Werth, who was sidelined with back spasms two days ago, was in the outfield during the early portion of Thursday’s workout, participating in drills. First baseman/third baseman Chad Tracy, who missed Wednesday’s workout after having fluid drained from his left knee, said he was feeling fine and worked out with the infielders.

Update: After the workout, manager Davey Johnson said he’s talk to the Nationals’ trainers before deciding whether LaRoche would be available Sunday. “Our trainers are sometimes a little conservative,” Johnson said. “I want to hear what their schedule is and then talk to Adam and see what he thinks in his mind. I do want to get him going as early as I can get him going so he feels comfortable with where he’s at after all he’s been through.”

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