After hitting like an MVP candidate for most of the season, Adam LaRoche has been struggling in recent weeks. With the Washington Nationals making a somewhat improbable first-place run in the NL East, LaRoche provided virtually the only offensive threat for a lineup that wasn't putting many runs on the board.
Over his past three games, LaRoche has really been on a downward spiral, batting 0-for-13 with three strikeouts. That dropped his slash average to .267/.360/.489, the lowest its been all season. LaRoche's OPS went from 1.024 on May 17 down to .871.
Any batter will typically go into a bad stretch at some point during the season. But for LaRoche, the slump seems to be attributable to the lack of a credible hitter behind him in the No. 5 spot. Opposing pitchers could avoid him, knowing the batters behind LaRoche were no threat, and LaRoche was likely trying too hard to make something happen.
But with the return of Michael Morse, the Nationals' leading home run and RBI man last season, LaRoche is getting some pitches to hit again.
On Wednesday night, New York Mets pitcher Jeremy Hefner hung a curveball to LaRoche, and the Nats' first baseman didn't miss it, cranking it out for a three-run homer and a first-inning lead.
Hefner told reporters afterwards that he was trying to be too clever with that pitch, according to.
"I was trying to 'backdoor' it," Hefner said to ESPN New York's Adam Rubin. "First pitch. Get a strike. And I pulled it over the middle and it hung for him to get it right there on the teeth. He did what he was supposed to do with that pitch."
Some people don't believe in lineup protection, but LaRoche and the Nationals seemed to present a strong argument in favor of it. He certainly buys into the idea.
"Now you've got one more big bat they've got to spend some time talking about, and figure out a way to get [Morse] out," LaRoche told reporters after the game. "And it helps other guys around him. The fact that I'm hitting in front of him now, I'm probably going to see some better pitches, because they know what's coming up."
For the night, LaRoche went 2-for-3 with a homer and four RBI. That's the guy who was a one-man offense for the Nationals through the first six weeks of the season. If Ryan Zimmerman can find his hitting touch in front of LaRoche, and if Morse is anywhere close to what he was last year, the Nats suddenly have a pretty potent middle of the lineup.
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