US Presswire photo
Adam LaRoche has clubbed two homers in as many days.
If there's only one thing to take away from the Nationals' season-opening series at Wrigley Field, it might just be the re-emergence of Adam LaRoche's power stroke.
Seriously. You have to be careful to read too much into the first three games of the year, so it's probably not worth agonizing over Jayson Werth's 0-for-10 start or exulting over Henry Rodriguez's 94 mph changeup.
But there's nothing wrong with reading something into LaRoche's two home runs against the Cubs: his two-run blast Saturday off the right-field foul pole and his two-run blast over the right-field bleachers yesterday.
Why? Because that right there was some pretty serious confirmation that LaRoche's torn left shoulder has completely healed and doesn't even need to be mentioned again.
LaRoche never doubted his power stroke would come back once his surgically repaired shoulder was back to 100 percent. But those two home runs certainly confirmed what he already believed.
"It's nice to know," he said Saturday. "I felt it in spring training. I felt it in batting practice. I could feel it in games. I wasn't having to cheat as much. I was able to sit back and see it a little longer. I kind of knew in camp it was gone and feeling good. But obviously, it feels good [to do it in the regular season]."
Try as he might to play through the labrum tear early last season, LaRoche simply didn't have the strength to turn on a fastball and drive the ball.
The difference was especially noticeable on Saturday, when LaRoche was able to get out ahead of Matt Garza's 95 mph inside heater and send it flying down the right-field line.
"I don't know that I could have got to that last year," he acknowledged. "There were a lot of pitches, even when I was feeling really good last year, a lot of pitches I felt like I should have killed. I would just miss them. I'd foul them back or fly out. I was not able to get the bat head to it. I've been feeling a lot better this year."
That should be music to the ears of the Nationals, who have been counting all along on LaRoche returning to the career form that has allowed him to average 25 homers and 87 RBI from 2005-10.
"I just think he's healthy," manager Davey Johnson said. "I think he's hungry. He's had quality at-bats, even when coming back from the injury. He swung the bat good in spring training, and he's carried it over. He's had some big hits for us already."
Yes, it's early and you have to be careful not to read too much into these performances. But the ability to turn on a 95 mph fastball and send it flying doesn't just disappear.
Which is why the most important development for the Nationals through three games this season might very well be the re-emergence of Adam LaRoche as a legitimate power threat.