VIERA, Fla. - You can add Adam LaRoche, Denard Span, Tyler Moore, Eury Perez, Mike Fontenot and Will Rhymes to the list of position players who have arrived to camp early. The left side of the Nationals' clubhouse - the side occupied by the position players - is slowly starting to fill up.
LaRoche strolled into the clubhouse early this afternoon with a lengthy beard on his face and his son Drake right on his heels. The LaRoche boys are back in town.
The beard, which features a grey patch below the chin (a sign that LaRoche is entering his 11th big league season), might rival the one on the face of reliever Ryan Mattheus. Neither is at Jayson Werth's level quite yet.
"I just didn't shave it for a while," LaRoche said. "And then I didn't shave it for a while longer. And then I just never shaved."
Ah, that's how you grow a beard, I guess.
"Plus, the crew I hang out with," LaRoche added, referring to the Duck Dynasty gang, "I'm the odd man out if I don't have a beard."
LaRoche comes into camp about 10-15 lbs. heavier than he was when the 2013 season ended. His weight became a topic of much discussion last summer and into the offseason, as he dropped down to around 190 lbs. at one point in the year (the lightest he'd been since high school) thanks to his attention deficit disorder medication, which started suppressing his appetite. LaRoche was left trying to find ways to retain energy and skipped batting practice some days in an attempt to avoid shedding even more weight.
The Nats' first baseman changed the release time on his specific ADD medication after the All-Star break last year, and the adjustment helped, as he was slowly able to add on some more weight down the stretch. He'll stick with that medication this year and hope it continues to work.
LaRoche had wanted to spend the entire offseason getting stronger and bulking up, but those plans were put on hold when it was determined that he needed arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow.
"I didn't notice it until Arizona, the last series," LaRoche said. "I think I missed the last two games. I just did something swinging. Apparently there was a bone chip that was floating in there and probably had been there awhile and then just got lodged in a spot where it was hitting a nerve and wouldn't come out. So they ended up going in and taking two or three out. So far, so good. It gets a little sore from time to time, especially now that I'm throwing a little more. ...
"It was frustrating, because going into the offseason I was really planning to put some weight back on and get stronger, and then that was a setback. But it is what it is. I feel good now."
LaRoche still hopes to add five more pounds or so to his frame, and then will try and retain the weight as long as possible.
When LaRoche made his way towards the cage this afternoon for his first batting practice session of spring, he found new Nats manager Matt Williams and gave him a big hug. Williams was the bench coach in Arizona one of the years that LaRoche played for the Diamondbacks, so the two men know each other fairly well. And LaRoche has nothing but positive things to say about the Nats' skipper.
"His mentality, he's got a great combination of being very intense, but he can also be very calm at the same time," LaRoche said. "He just has a knack for communicating with guys. He remembers how hard the game was. He just has a good outlook on it. It'll be a great fit for him. It'll be a lot different from Davey (Johnson). I think actually they're about as opposite as you can be. Both good. Both of them get the job done. It's just two different philosophies. ...
"We've had a couple conversations this winter, and he did say there's gonna be some change. He's not gonna come in and try and overhaul this entire organization, but he said there would be some change. I assume it has something to do with intensity, whether it's in spring training, throughout the season. That's the way he played, that's the way he works and that's the only way he knows."
Johnson was good with LaRoche and others bringing their kids around the ballpark in previous years, but not all managers are on board with that. LaRoche and Williams discussed the topic this winter, however, and Williams - whose son Jake played in the minors and now works for the Diamondbacks - made it clear that Drake is welcome at Nats camp, as are other players' kids.
"He was saying when Jake was eight, some of his best memories were bringing Jake to the field, so he said he loved it," LaRoche said. "He said, 'I love having kids around.' There's a time and a place for it, and we'll probably work some more details out on it. But no, I think he's great about kids coming out as long as we keep it under control and realize the guys have a job to do. I don't think a lot will change there."