Yes, it is too early in the season to make sweeping assumptions about any Washington Nationals player, but one player deserves a little credit where he's gotten none over the last year: Adam LaRoche. This isn't to say that LaRoche can or will be this good all season, but it's time for his detractors to speak up and give him his due credit.
After hitting an atrocious .172 with a .288 OBP and just three home runs in 43 games last season, LaRoche elected to have surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder ending his season. After the Nationals offered him a two-year/$16 million deal the previous offseasons, fans were understandably upset and frustrated. LaRoche had a history of durability, never playing fewer than 136 games in a seasons since his rookie year, and he was supposed to be at the heart of the team's lineup. Luckily, Michael Morse stepped in and helped out in the cleanup spot.
However, LaRoche's absense left a sour taste in the mouths of many in NatsTown. This led to widespread speculation that the Nationals would aggressively pursue Prince Fielder, that Adam LaRoche was overrated, and that he was overpaid with his $8 million per year salary. All offseason, LaRoche took the criticism in stride. The 32-year-old veteran knew what he was capable of and knew he could provide it to this Nationals team this year, so he dealt with the rumors like the veteran he is.
When Opening Day came around at Wrigley Field though, LaRoche looked lost at the plate. He went 0-for-3 with 3 Ks, a walk, and stranded 5 runners. Despite the fact that the Nats were facing Ryan Dempster who was outstanding, or that the only other Nats to get hits in the contest were Ian Desmond and Chad Tracy, LaRoche was criticized again for stranding critical runners that could have cost the Nats the game.
In Game Two on Saturday, LaRoche seemed determined not to repeat his Thursday performance, and boy did he ever come through. He went 4-for-5 with a two-run home run off the right field foul pole. He generated four of the Nationals' seven runs that game by scoring them himself or knocking them in on the home run. He looked comfortable at the plate, and his swing looked fluid.
When Sunday's contest came around, I personally looked forward to seeing how LaRoche looked. He struck out twice against Jeff Samardzija, but six other Nats were put down on strikes by the Cubs pitcher on Sunday. However, LaRoche's two-run home run with two out in the 9th inning gave the Nationals life. His ability to hit in the clutch, combined with his above-average defense at first base, made him valuable to the Nats in the first place. He's a guy that's knocked in between 80 and 100 runs throughout his career.
LaRoche isn't always known for his extremely strong starts to the season, and again, we're just three games in, but it's time for those of us that that have said or written harsh words about Adam LaRoche to give him another chance. All offseason, he was the perfect teammate and clubhouse guy; he never requested a trade in the wake of rumors that other players could play the position better. In the early part of the 2012 season, he's shown how he plans to contribute to this team in a big way. If he can match his career averages in home runs, RBI, batting average, and on-base, his value for the Nats will be significant in a lineup that will need as much offense as it can get this season.