Adam LaRoche's night off Tuesday because of a tightness in his back was nothing new for the veteran first baseman. He's battled back issues for five or six years now, and knows the triggers that cause him trouble.
Inactivity is a problem, and this time, the 2½-hour bus ride from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia on Sunday evening apparently was the culprit.
"I felt it for a couple days, just a little bit of stiffness, and then the bus ride just really got me," LaRoche said before Wednesday night's game at Citizens Bank Park against the Phillies. "I can loosen it up, and it feels good, but then when I stand around ... like playing the day before yesterday, when I stood around by the fourth or fifth inning, it just tightened up. ... I woke up yesterday morning and it was pretty stiff, but it felt better this morning."
LaRoche received treatment Tuesday and again when he arrived at the ballpark on Wednesday, and manager Matt Williams wrote his name in the Nationals lineup for tonight's game.
"He's OK," Williams said. "He gets a tight back every once in a while. He got some good work on it yesterday. He'll go through BP today and pending some kind of issue, he's good."
Until Tuesday night, LaRoche had played every inning of every game in August. He's got six home runs this month - matching his combined output from June and July - and 14 RBIs to go along with a .264 average. A .159 July with a homer and 11 RBIs is a distant memory.
"He's held up well," Williams said. "We've tried to give him some days and certainly the off-days mixed in there help. But he's been producing, he's playing well, his legs feel good. This little back issue is no big deal - he's had that before."
LaRoche said the back can become a problem when he stands or sits for extended periods of time, like the troublesome bus ride. He'll often take swings between innings just to keep loose and will stretch out and lay down when the Nats fly to Seattle after tonight's game.
While LaRoche is used to working out the kinks in his back, the Nationals are getting familiar with tonight's starting pitcher, righty Doug Fister, shutting down the opposition's running game. Only one opposing baserunner has even tried to steal against Fister this year, and that attempt was unsuccessful.
Williams said Fister's success at holding runners is two-fold: He's a former infielder who can adopt the mindset of a fielder in the middle of a game, and he's adept at both varying his motion to first base and holding the ball to disrupt a runner's timing.
Ultimately, just being quick to the plate helps a lot, and Fister is usually about 1.2 to 1.25 seconds in his delivery. That means only the elite baserunners have a chance to swipe a bag off him.