After missing most of 2011 with a torn labrum Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche has been a key player in helping the team clinch its first ever postseason appearance.
Going into a three game series with the Philadelphia Phillies, LaRoche is batting .269 with 32 home runs and 98 runs batted in. He has tied his career high for homers in a season set in 2006. He is two RBI away from his 2010 high water mark of 100. On defense, LaRoche is sporting a .995 fielding percentage with seven errors over 146 games.
This is the player Washington thought they were getting when LaRoche signed as a free agent before last season.
LaRoche came to Washington as a solid, left handed hitting free agent from the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was believed that he would fill the hole created at first when Nick Johnson became a free agent in 2009. Before LaRoche, Adam Dunn was the Nationals first baseman. He was a great power hitter, but liability with the glove.
Washington never got the full LaRoche in 2011. He only played in 46 games as the shoulder injury put him on the disabled list. Michael Morse stepped in and had his best season batting .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBI. This guaranteed that if LaRoche could not come back, Morse would be the regular first baseman.
Instead, it was Morse who could not play at the beginning of 2012. He suffered a strained lat injury which kept him out of the first 50 games of the season. This allowed LaRoche to start the year at first. With his job back and Morse waiting in the wings, LaRoche began the 2012 season strong. He batted .287 with eight home runs and 35 RBI over April and May. By the time Morse became healthy there was no doubt LaRoche wasn’t going anywhere.
This is what the Nationals hoped for. A healthy LaRoche batting fourth behind third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and in front of Morse has provided Washington with one of the best hitting lineups in baseball. Until this season Washington could never boast more than one or two power hitters. Now they have three in LaRoche, Zimmerman and Morse when healthy. Shortstop Ian Desmond and outfielder Bryce Harper have also added pop.
Where LaRoche has been more valuable is on defense. He is the leader of a young infield and gives them confidence. The Nationals have never had a first baseman as good with the glove. LaRoche fields almost everything hit to him. More important he has saved Washington infielders from errant throws time and again. There is nothing more comforting to an infielder than knowing his first baseman will bail him out on an errant toss.
The 2012 season has been much more fulfilling than 2011 for LaRoche. He has remained healthy and performed well.
His presence in the lineup has been one of the key elements in helping Washington earn its first postseason appearance.