LaRoche steps up at first in comeback season

LaRoche steps up at first in comeback season

LaRoche steps up at first in comeback season
WASHINGTON -- It was only last offseason that the Nationals were trying to sign free agent Prince Fielder.

They were looking to acquire a first baseman like Fielder because Adam LaRoche missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. But Fielder signed a nine-year deal with the Tigers, and Washington wasn't going to give Fielder anymore than a five-year deal.

"I wouldn't have blamed them [for trying to sign] Prince Fielder. I was hurt all year," LaRoche said Sunday. "They were trying to get a guy who has proven it every year. The only motivation that I had was that I wanted to prove to myself that I could come back and play. When you sit out that long, it kind of humbles you.

"It makes you realize how much you miss the game. It's pretty easy to take advantage of this game when you are healthy all the time. So as soon as you lose it, it's just tough. It gives you a little extra drive to prove to yourself and try to help this team."

As it turns out, missing out on Fielder hasn't hurt the Nationals. LaRoche, 32, is currently having a Comeback Player of the Year-type season, hitting .275 with a team-leading 23 home runs and 69 RBIs.

"I think the older that I get, the more I learn about hitting. I still have a lot to learn, I have a long way to go," LaRoche said. "I think in the last few years, I've gotten a little wiser in some situations. Before, I was trying to do too much. I'm trying to be a little more consistent. ...

"Another big part is the lineup that surrounds me. When you have a bunch of guys that surrounds me, you don't feel like you have to get it done every night and produce all the runs. This lineup is full of guys that could do that. That takes pressure off of all of us. "

The Nationals have a club option for LaRoche for next season. There hasn't been any talk about picking up the option, according to LaRoche. However, he indicated he would like to remain a member of the Nationals for years to come.

"I would love to stay here. I made it pretty clear I love what we are doing," LaRoche said. "Regardless what happens the rest of this year, I think we are going to be this competitive for a while. There are no signs of this team declining at all. I want to be a part of it. If it works, it works. If not, it's not my first time packing up. So we'll see."