Forget the slow starts, LaRoche is in a zone

What’s the difference between the 2012 Adam LaRoche and the Adam LaRoche that we’ve seen around this time in previous seasons?

“He isn’t struggling,” manager Davey Johnson deadpanned.

Well, yeah. There’s that.

LaRoche, typically a slow starter, has opened this season on a tear, hitting .345 with two homers and eight RBIs. He’s tied for sixth in the majors in both homers and RBIs, at times, it seems like he’s single-handedly kept the Nationals’ offense afloat, with yesterday’s two-out, two-run single in the fifth inning a prime example of that.

Despite the fact that LaRoche is hitting just .215 in the months of March and April for his career, Johnson said he had complete faith that his first baseman would produce when the lights were turned on.

“I think sometimes, we look at numbers and categorize people and don’t really look at in the proper manner,” Johnson said. “The standard deviation chart states that it takes 500 chances to be able to predict within plus-or-minus five percent. I don’t put a lot of stock in five years or six years of slow starts. I think if you’re a good hitter, there’s a time for you to hit.”

That time is now, and LaRoche is delivering. But even with the impressive numbers he’s put up so far, LaRoche says he’s still not ready to call himself locked in.

“To be honest, I’m not exactly where I want to be right now,” LaRoche said. “I’m not complaining by any means. I’m seeing the ball well. But still working on some things. I think (I need to be) more selective. I’m still kind of going outside the zone a little bit, swinging at some pitches that when I’m really swinging it well, I’m probably not chasing. All-in-all good, but still some work to do.”

Back in spring training, Johnson had broached the idea of platooning LaRoche, with Mark DeRosa seeing time at first base against left-handed pitchers. But LaRoche has played every game so far this season, including the Nats’ only game against a lefty starter. LaRoche has played so well that it’d be hard to take hit bat out of the lineup at this point, with Michael Morse still sidelined and Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman somewhat slow to get started.

One positive, along with the results, is that LaRoche says he’s fairly healthy, although he is still feeling the effects of shoulder surgery and a left foot injury which sidelined him for much of spring training.

He said the foot feels about 80 percent and that it still nags at him late in games, but feels it’s improving every day. As for the shoulder, it’s not completely healed from last year’s surgery, but is healthy enough that it’s not forcing LaRoche to cheat on pitches as he tries to avoid getting beat by fastballs on the inner-half.

“There are still some throws where I can feel it,” LaRoche said. “And warming up every day, it probably takes 10-15 throws to get it stretched out, whereas before I could just come out firing. Hopefully at some point this year, it’s completely out of mind, but right now, it’s good enough.”

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