Results tagged ‘ Adam LaRoche ’

A fast start for Adam LaRoche

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — The 2014 season is still very young, but already, Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche is bucking a trend that has left its mark on his career.

Whether it’s a meaningless statistical quirk or something deeper, LaRoche has rightfully earned the label of a slow starter over the years. As of last year, he sported the seventh-largest negative gap between his career OPS and April OPS, as well as the second-biggest between his career OPS and first-half OPS of any active player. At the time, mired in a rough start even by his standards, LaRoche couldn’t explain what was behind it.

“If I had the answer to that, I’d love to pass it on to some younger guys, but there’s just nothing there,” LaRoche said, near the end of an April that saw him hit .136/.213/.259.

To be clear, LaRoche has enjoyed strong Aprils before, such as in 2012, when he jumpstarted one of his best overall seasons by posting a .964 OPS in the opening month. And so far in 2014, he’s on that track again.

LaRoche went 3-for-3 and drew a walk in Tuesday night’s win over the Marlins, leaving him with a line of .348/.500/.652.

To be sure, it’s an extremely small sample size. But coming off a subpar 2013 and considering LaRoche’s historical struggles in the early going, it qualifies as a positive sign.

“I’ve seen Adam hit 30 [home runs] and drive in 100, and I know he’s capable of doing that,” manager Matt Williams said. “What’s encouraging to me is him hitting the ball the other way and taking the single when it’s given to him. What he’s done so far is he’s handled lefties pretty well and stayed on the baseball. We saw that a lot in Spring Training, too. It was a focus of his to stay on the baseball and hit it to the opposite gap, and he’s done that.”

LaRoche did put together a solid spring, hitting .283/.327/.522. He said that over the last couple of weeks of Grapefruit League play, he tweaked his swing slightly, working to shorten it and keep his front leg soft.

“It’s paying off now,” he said. “It feels good. Again, it’s hitting. It comes and goes, so you just ride it out.”

So far this season, LaRoche has homered twice, including a mammoth blast into the top deck at Nats Park on Saturday against the Braves.

He didn’t offer up anything that dramatic on Tuesday, but he reached safely in every plate appearance. LaRoche singled to left in the first inning, walked in the fourth, singled to center in the sixth and singled to right in the eighth against lefty reliever Mike Dunn.

He said his frequent use of the opposite field hasn’t been intentional, but it is a good sign.

“When I’m in position to hit and I’m not pulling off the ball, I’ll do that obviously more than not,” he said. “I’ll get in modes where it probably appears I’m pulling off of everything. It’s one of those things there where I get really hard on my front side, so without getting too technical, no, it’s an accident and I’m looking to drive the ball, but if the timing’s on and I’m in position, I’m still able to go that way.”

However it’s happened, the results have been stark. In seven games and 30 plate appearances, LaRoche has reached base safely 15 times. Last season, it took him 14 games and 53 plate appearances to get to the same point.

Tyler Moore ready to fight for job

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Describing last season as a “wakeup call,” Tyler Moore is preparing for Spring Training with the mindset that he will need to win a spot on the Nationals’ 25-man roster.

Moore, who turns 27 on Thursday, burst onto the scene with a strong rookie season in 2012 but struggled throughout much of ‘13, enduring a demotion to the Minor Leagues along the way. He figures to be a part of Washington’s bench again this year but isn’t taking that job for granted.

“I’m not given anything,” Moore said on Saturday at FanFest. “I definitely have to earn what I’m gonna get. I’m just looking forward to it, looking forward to competing.”

Moore knows that playing time could be scarce this season. Adam LaRoche remains as the starter at first base, and while the right-handed Moore could get some starts there against lefties, The Washington Post reported in December that the club plans to have third baseman Ryan Zimmerman work out at first this spring. If Zimmerman takes some starts at first, and with Scott Hairston providing an extra righty bat in the outfield, Moore likely would be relegated mostly to a pinch-hitting role.

That puts the onus on Moore to produce in more limited opportunities.

“I think last year maybe I was a little too lackadaisical in spring, and that’s what I want to kind of correct this year because I know I don’t have an everyday job, obviously,” Moore said. “I have to be ready to come in and hit when I have a chance, and when I have that chance, I have to take the best advantage of it.”

As a rookie, Moore hit .263/.327/.513 in 171 plate appearances, with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs. But in ‘13, he posted a .222/.260/.347 line in 178 plate appearances, seeing his walks drop and his strikeouts rise while collecting four home runs and 21 RBIs.

Then-manager Davey Johnson talked frequently about how difficult it can be for a young player, used to being in the lineup every day in the Minors, to fill a bench role in the Majors. Although he enjoyed some success as a pinch-hitter in ‘12, Moore went 1-for-18 with 12 strikeouts last year.

“Physically, I definitely know how. Mentally it’s still a challenge,” Moore said of coming off the bench. “I think it’s still a challenge, even for the veteran guys, and it’s something you have to figure out every day and your own personal way to do things. The biggest thing for me is just to slow the game down and really just get locked in when I’m watching the game on the bench, to stay in the game and not lose myself.”

Moore spent about a month and a half at Triple-A Syracuse last summer, but when he returned, he was clicking. Making the most of some chances to start, Moore went 21-for-61 (.344) from Aug. 17 on, with four doubles, a homer and seven RBIs.

With that finish as a springboard, Moore intends to come to Nationals camp in Viera, Fla., with a sense of urgency as he looks to put 2013 behind him.

“It was tough. But at the same time, it was kind of a wakeup call, like, look, you can’t just roll in here [to the Majors] and think you’re gonna do good all the time,” Moore said. “This is a tough and humbling game, and it’s an eye-opener, makes you a little bit more hungry, because a lot of people are talking bad and you just want to prove them wrong, but at the same time you want to prove to yourself that you belong here and you want to stay.”

Small mistake looms large in playoff push

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

The Nationals’ road to the playoffs is actually more like a tightrope. They have little room for error as they try to catch Arizona and Cincinnati in the Wild Card race, and every mistake over the next month will be magnified.

Such was the case on Friday, when the Mets scored the deciding run in a 3-2 ball game on a questionable throw and missed scoop.

In the top of the eighth inning with two outs and Daniel Murphy on second base, Andrew Brown hit a chopper to Ryan Zimmerman at third. Zimmerman, who has a team-high 19 errors this season, tried to make a difficult play and skipped a throw to first. First baseman Adam LaRoche couldn’t field the ball cleanly and Murphy ran around to score.

Given the situation, it probably would have been wise for Zimmerman to hold the ball. Though if LaRoche had been able to scoop the ball on an awkward hop, Murphy wouldn’t have scored and it probably wouldn’t have been a big issue.

“I’ll throw that every time,” Zimmerman said. “I got the ball clean and threw it. When I’m off-balance like that, I usually just bounce it. Rochie made a good play. I think the guy would’ve been safe. He came off the bag and unfortunately it took a funny hop and he couldn’t come up with it. But if he catches it clean, the guy’s out at home by a mile.”

Bench coach Randy Knorr, who took over for Davey Johnson in the fourth inning because the skipper was feeling light-headed, gave Murphy credit for rounding third base without hesitation. Shortstop Ian Desmond said that he trusts Zimmerman in that situation, regardless of his throwing woes this season.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Yeah, put it in your pocket,’” Desmond said. “But at the same time, that’s a big play if he makes that play. I’ll take my chances on Zim making that play every time.”

In a vacuum, Zimmerman’s decision to throw and LaRoche’s inability to field the ball were not major blunders. The game could have turned on a number of other plays. But given the situation — both the Reds and Diamondbacks also lost Friday, giving the Nationals a chance to gain ground — those small mistakes suddenly look much larger.

 

Which Nats players could go after 2013?

After the 2013 season comes to an end, the Nationals are likely to make changes  to improve the club for next season. Here are the current Nationals who may not be with the club next year.       

OF Roger Bernadina: As one person put it, “[Bernadina] has been a disappointment this year.” He not only has problems swinging the bat, but Bernadina has made some fundamental mistakes on the bases. As one evaluator put it, “[general manager Mike] Rizzo has never been a fan of Bernadina’s.”

Bernadina is arbration eligible after this season and there is a good chance he will be non-tendered.

2B Danny Espinosa: Shoulder and wrist injuries are the reasons Espinosa is having his worst year in 2013.  If he comes back to the big leagues for Washington, he most likely will be a reserve. He could be an everyday player elsewhere. He must cut down on the strikeouts to become an everyday player again.

RHP Dan Haren: Despite pitching well in the last month or so, Haren doesn’t think he will be back with the Nationals next year because of the season he has had, overall. He is 7-11 with a 4.99 ERA in 21 starts. The Nationals signed him to a one-year, $13 million deal to be one of their five starters this year.

1B Adam LaRoche: Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is arguably having his worst year defensively, with a team-leading 17 errors. But that number doesn’t tell the whole story. He is still having throwing issues because of the surgery he had on his right shoulder. In fact in early June, Zimmerman said he expects the shoulder to be in rehab mode for the rest of the season, but it will not keep him out of the lineup. It would not be surprising if the Nationals decided to move Zimmerman from third to first base as early as September. That could mean trading LaRoche to make room for Zimmerman at the position.

OF Denard Span: The Nationals thought he would be their ideal leadoff man after they acquired him from the Twins for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. Entering Tuesday’s action against the Giants, Span is hitting .263 with a .312 on-base percentage. Even worst, he has a .167 batting average against left-handers. It’s not known if Span will get another chance next season.

Brian Goodwin is not ready to take over center fielder. The Nationals could try to acquire a center fielder this offseason. For example, Shin-Soo Choo is a free agent after the season. He currently has a .409 on-base percentage with the Reds.

C Kurt Suzuki: Most of the playing time behind the plate has gone to Wilson Ramos, so it is doubtful Suzuki will have his option vested for 2014. The Nationals have a plethora of quality catchers in the farm system, so it looks like Suzuki will take his services elsewhere after next season.

INF Chad Tracy: The leader of the Goon Squad, Tracy is not having a productive season like he did last year. Entering Tuesday’s action against the Giants, Tracy is 18-for-102 [.176] with three home runs six RBIs. He is not the only one who is not producing of the bench. The bench is one of the reasons the Nationals have been inconsistent this season.

Gio’s statement on Biogenesis innocence

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez released a statement Monday after being declared innocent in Major League Baseball’s Biogenesis Investigation.

“I am very pleased that Major League Baseball has cleared my name,” Gonzalez said in the statement. “With this process now complete, I have no lingering sense of animosity, as I quickly realized that the objective of this investigation was to clean up our game. This is an ideal that I share with both Major League Baseball and the MLBPA. I would also like to acknowledge the unwavering support of my teammates, the Lerner Family, Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson, our coaching staff and Nationals fans everywhere.”

Gonzalez declined further comment before Monday’s game against the Braves.

Tyler Clippard, who with the demotion of Drew Storen is now the Nationals’ union player representative, said that he was happy to see Gonzalez proclaimed innocent, but also upset that the left-hander’s name was connected with the investigation in the first place.

“I think it’s unfortunate that he was on the list to begin with,” Clippard said. “He’s obviously doing the right things. Gio’s a good guy and obviously wasn’t cheating, so for him to be on the list in the first place was kind of unfortunate. But I guess it’s kind of good for him to get a clean slate. He really should’ve never been mentioned anyway, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s good that he’s clean.”

By and large, players in the Nationals’ clubhouse were happy for Gonzalez but at all surprised by his innocence. Adam LaRoche said that it was a non-issue. He always knew that Gonzalez was clean.

“I think we did, enough of us talked to him early on that we knew he was free and clear on that,” LaRoche said. “It’s good peace of mind for him, and for any skeptics out there, to have it confirmed. I’m sure it’s a big weight of his shoulders.”

Thoughts from the clubhouse on Eckstein’s firing

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

After watching his offense score five runs in three games against the Dodgers, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo decided that it was time for a change. He fired hitting coach Rick Eckstein, who was in his ninth season with the club, including his fifth as hitting coach.

Manager Davey Johnson was not happy about the move, calling Monday “arguably the toughest day I’ve had in baseball.” Here’s what some of the players had to say:

Chad Tracy: “A lot of us feel like we had some responsibility in him being let go. There’s nobody on this coaching staff that works harder than Rick Eckstein. It’s unfortunate just because it’s not his fault. I think he’s a great guy, first of all. He’ll land on his feet somewhere. There’s no doubt about that. And I really enjoyed having him around here the last two years.”

Adam LaRoche: “It’s unfortunate for we, the offense, to put them in a position where they have to make the move. He’s a great hitting coach, there’s nothing he could have done. It’s on us. It’s hard to send your whole offense down to the minors.”

Ian Desmond: “Rick was part of something really special here. It gets hard to remember that a couple of years ago there were 15,000 or 20,000 people in the stands and a sub-.500 team getting run out there every day. With Rick we got better, we continued to get better and we ended up winning a division title. I think he’s got four or five Silver Sluggers on his resume. He’s done a lot of special things and he’s obviously a very good hitting coach. But this is a very cutthroat business and it’s all about what have you done for me lately. Unfortunately for him, he had to go.”

LaRoche: “You want a hitting coach who’s in the cage all day long, always there waiting for guys to come down there. I don’t think you could ever walk in that cage anytime of the day and not see Eck in there.”

Desmond: “I think one of the best qualities of Rick was that he was the epitome of a team player. If I said, ‘Rick I want to go out and hit in some rain and lightning,’ he would do it.”

Ryan Zimmerman: “It’s tough. It’s part of the professional business. When things don’t happen on the field, things like this have to happen. But it’s the players’ fault. We’re the ones not hitting, we’re the ones not scoring runs. When it comes down to it, no hitting coach or pitching coach can do anything about this but us.”

Tracy: “I don’t think anybody can blame Rick Eckstein for any of the woes that we’ve had on the offensive side. And Rick Schu, he’s been around a lot of us, so he knows our swings. I’m sure he’s probably looking at a lot of them on video as we speak to try to get familiar before he gets here. It may change the atmosphere around here. And it may not. We don’t know. But we’ll move on and flip the page and keep playing baseball.”

Zimmerman: “I’ve hit the same way since I was ten years old. When you get to this level, it’s your job to hit. We get paid a lot of money to hit and do our job. … No coach is going to come in here and turn someone who isn’t a .300 hitter into a .300 hitter. When you get to this level, you are what you are.”

LaRoche’s take on Tyler Moore’s demotion

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

With the myriad injuries that they’ve had this season, the Nationals have frequently had to ship players to and from the Minor Leagues. The team’s decision to option Tyler Moore to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday night, however, had nothing to do with health.

 The 26-year-old first baseman and outfielder is one of the few guys in Washington who hasn’t had injury problems this year. But his problems at the plate, where the Nationals counted on him to be a key contributor off the bench, have been just as concerning.

Moore batted .158 (15-for-94) in 37 games with the Nationals, including just five doubles and two home runs. He was sent down in favor of first baseman Chris Marrero, another slugger who has simply had a better season so far.

“I’m not up here for my defense. I’m up here for my hitting, and I’m not doing it. There’s no excuses,” Moore said on Sunday night. “Stuff wasn’t falling like it usually does. I was striking out too much. I just had to make some adjustments, and I didn’t make them quick enough.”

Manager Davey Johnson said that his plan is to have Moore get regular at-bats at Syracuse and regain his confidence. And nobody understands Johnson’s thinking better than veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche, who has served as a mentor for the 26-year-old as he tries to find his footing.

“That’s the hardest thing, being a younger guy, getting sent down for the first time, it’s hard to see a positive in that,” LaRoche said. “We’ve all known it since he’s been up here that he’s an everyday player for a lot of people. He’s proved that in the minor leagues, what he can do with 500 or 600 at-bats, and he’s in a bad spot here. He just doesn’t get a lot of at-bats. You can’t expect a guy with not a lot of big-league time to be productive off the bench. It’s just too hard.”

“I hate it for him because I love having him in this clubhouse and I love having his bat and the fact that he can play outfield, play first base,” LaRoche continued. “Selfishly, it’d be nice to have him up here but there’s no doubt it’s the best thing for him.”

Game 153: Cardinals at Nationals

Mike Fiammetta here, helping out Bill Ladson on the blog. The Nationals go for the series win against the Cardinals today at Nationals Park, where it’ll be Stephen Strasburg vs. Jake Westbrook. As always, follow along on Nationals.com throughout the game.

It was an awfully quite Nationals clubhouse this morning, understandable considering last night’s grueling 10-9 loss to the Cardinals. Unprovoked, Davey Johnson began his post-game meeting to the media with, “Well that had to be the longest nine-inning game I’ve ever been involved in.”

That sure wasn’t an understatement, as the three-hour, 29-minute game saw 24 hits between the two teams and a combined 11 pitchers used. Even a four-run first inning wasn’t enough for the Nats, who relinquished their lead after a four-run Cardinals fourth inning and again after St. Louis scored the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth.

Today, Strasburg looks to clinch the series for the Nats while making what should be one of this last two or three starts of the season. That was the number Johnson gave earlier in the week, and as inexact as it seems, the Nats have remained consistent with their approach to Strasburg. Johnson has said there is a plan in place, even if it hasn’t been disclosed to the media.

The good news for the Nats is that after exiting last night’s game in the ninth inning with hamstring cramps, Jayson Werth is back atop Washington’s lineup today. Adam LaRoche does get what appears to be a day off, though.

An update on Bryce Harper is coming in the notebook, and until then, here are the rest of today’s lineups.

Cardinals (72-61)

  1. Jon Jay CF
  2. Carlos Beltran RF
  3. Matt Holliday LF
  4. Allen Craig 1B
  5. David Freese 3B
  6. Bryan Anderson C
  7. Pete Kozma SS
  8. Daniel Descalso 2B
  9. Jake Westbrook RHP

Nationals (80-52)

  1. Jayson Werth RF
  2. Bryce Harper CF
  3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
  4. Michael Morse LF
  5. Chad Tracy 1B
  6. Ian Desmond SS
  7. Danny Espinosa 2B
  8. Kurt Suzuki C
  9. Stephen Strasburg RHP

Nats Inbox: Beat reporter Bill Ladson answers Nationals fans’ questions

Are you finally on the Roger Bernadina bandwagon? He is having his best year offensively and we all saw his awesome catch against the Astros. Do you see him settling in as the Nats’ fourth outfielder during the foreseeable future or do you think he’ll be swimming in different waters next season?
— Tyler and Terry, Washington DC

I’ve always been on the Bernadina bandwagon. I’m simply not fond of the nickname, “The Shark,” because he doesn’t put up Albert Pujols numbers. I prefer the name, “Speed Racer,” because of the way he runs the bases.

There is no question that Bernadina is having a great year. I love the way he outplayed Rick Ankiel, who was released last month. Bernadina is having great at-bats — it helps that he shortened his swing — and playing great defense. He could be a fourth outfielder for years to come. I don’t see him playing every day for the Nationals. He could be trade bait during the offseason.

The Nats bullpen has been great this year. But they have been used a lot. Manager Davey Johnson seems reluctant to have his starters pitch the last three innings of a game — even if the pitch count is low. If this is going to be a postseason team, won’t they need a fresh bullpen? Is this just part of Davey’s managing personality?
— Chris, Marlborough, CT

I spoke to Johnson recently and he doesn’t want to over use his pitchers before the postseason begins. During the month of September, I expect the Nationals to call up extra relievers such as Christian Garcia, so I expect the Nationals’ bullpen to be rested by the postseason.

When Ian Desmond returns, I would assume that Jayson Werth will lead off and Ian Desmond will hit sixth. Is this what you think also?
— Jamie, New Brunswick, Canada

It’s hard to say. If both players can stay healthy, I could see both players leading off from time to time. I can also see Danny Espinosa leading off once in a while. During the offseason, it would not surprise me if the Nationals were looking for a leadoff hitter.

With the development of Bryce Harper, I do not see the urgency to acquire a center fielder for next season. They are overloaded in the outfield already. Do you agree?
— Rich R., Washington DC.

I disagree. They have almost nothing but corner outfielders. I think Harper is a better as a right or left fielder. While Bernadina is having a great year defensively in center field, the Nationals consider him a corner outfielder. They center fielder could come from the Minor League system [Eury Perez] or free agency [Michael Bourn].

With Adam LaRoche having a mutual option for next season, do you think he will decline his option due to such a great season? I was thinking that if LaRoche picks up the option as well as the Nats, the team could decide to deal either LaRoche or Michael Morse, get good value in return and then go after a center fielder in a trade.
— Alex H., London, England

It’s too early to answer the question about LaRoche and the mutual option. I think both sides will deal with the option after the season. I don’t think Morse will be traded because he has one more year left on his contract and could be put at first base for next year.

There is possibility they could wait for Perez and Brian Goodwin, but I’m expecting the Nationals to trade for a center fielder or sign one during the free agency period.

Although John Lannan has struggled this season at Triple A Syracuse, with his success with the Major League team, do you see a long-term future with him in the rotation again?
— Ben S. Concord. N.C.

The answer is no. It would not surprise me if he was non-tendered after the season. Provided that everybody is healthy or re-signed for next year, I see the rotation like this: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler.

– Bill Ladson

After talk with son, Nats’ LaRoche has great game

First baseman Adam LaRoche had a game to remember on Saturday afternoon. He went 4-for-5 with a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored in a 7-4 victory over the Cubs.

It came two days after LaRoche went hitless in three at-bats – three strikeouts – and left five runners on base in a 2-1 victory. After that game, LaRoche saw his son, Drake, who became his dad’s harshest critic.

“My son comes up to me and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘You are exactly right. I have no idea.’ So it was nice to come out and just see the ball better today — better pitch selection. I wasn’t chasing the pitches that I was [two days ago]. Another great win. Man, another great win.”

The game on Saturday also showed that LaRoche has recovered from his left shoulder injury, which forced him to miss most of last season. The home run he hit against Cubs right-hander Matt Garza was his first since April 24 of last year.

“[Last year], I had a lot of pitches — even when I was feeling good last year – that should have killed. I would foul them back out to left or not being able to get the bat head to it. I feel a lot better.”

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