For LaRoche, an opening day to forget

CHICAGO - It wasn’t the smoothest of opening days for Adam LaRoche.

LaRoche came to the plate four times during yesterday’s game against the Cubs, and the Nationals first baseman left Wrigley Field having started his season with a big, fat 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts - all swinging - and five runners left on base.

“Those games suck,” LaRoche said after the game. “They’re really no fun when you don’t come out with a win, so to get a win in there and get that one in the books, you forget about it.”

LaRoche had a chance to start his season on the right foot very early on, when he came to the plate in the first inning with runners at second and third and just one out. Battling against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, LaRoche went down swinging on five pitches.

In the third inning, LaRoche stood in the batters box with the bases loaded and just one out. He took three swings, and went right back to the dugout.

The third strikeout came in the sixth, when a Dempster slider set LaRoche down on strikes.

“If I play long enough, that’s not going to be the last time that happens,” LaRoche said. “For whatever reason, I wasn’t seeing Dempster very good, obviously. It’s one of those situations where I’m not seeing it, so I’m fighting to stay in there and see it as long as I can, and it just kind of spirals from there.”

LaRoche said he doesn’t feel his lack of spring training at-bats due to a foot injury contributed to his struggles yesterday. He just got off to a bad start early on, and then admitted that he was pressing a bit in his second and third at-bats, trying to do too much.

The 32-year-old has always been a slow starter, putting up a paltry career line of .207/.303/.383 in regular season games played in March and April. Nats fans also remember all too well how poorly LaRoche hit early in the season last year, as he batted just .172 and slugged .258 in 43 early-season games for Washington before undergoing shoulder surgery.

LaRoche is aware of his tendency to get off to a slow start, but says mentally, he comes into each year with a clean slate.

“I totally forget about it,” he said. “It’s something that, obviously, I know the track record, I know what’s going on, but it’s one of those things where it’s a new year, fresh start. Forget about it.”

Of course, yesterday was just one ball game, and we shouldn’t read too much into anything after just four plate appearances. Plus, if you’re looking for a silver lining in LaRoche’s afternoon yesterday, you can find it in his eighth inning walk off Cubs reliever Kerry Wood, which loaded the bases and allowed Jayson Werth to walk in the game-tying run one batter later.

“Felt like the whole night I was 0-2, 1-2, just not seeing it real good,” LaRoche said. “Trying to do what I could to put the ball in play (against Wood). Got some pitches to hit, fouled them off and I think it was 2-2 and he came back with two balls off the plate. Had some chances to do some damage early, which would have helped out. It didn’t happen, but shoot, guys picked us up.”

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