HOUSTON — Two months into his second career as a designated hitter, Adam LaRoche is still learning on the job. It’s becoming more normal, if not more comfortable.
“DH has had a different feel to it but I’m still getting used to it and I want to get used to it,’’ LaRoche said. “It’s different.’’
Jose Abreu has played first base in nine of the Sox first 48 games, but LaRoche, a 2012 Gold Glove winner, was at the corner for the second straight day Sunday with Abreu out because of a sore right index finger. His home run in the seventh inning gave the White Sox a 6-0 lead.
LaRoche is 11-for-35 with five homers and 10 RBI in 36 plate appearances while playing first base, compared to .203 with one homer and 11 RBI in 148 plate appearances as a DH.
Direct correlation or coincidence?
“I haven’t noticed a huge difference or split,’’ LaRoche said. “It’s what you’re familiar with.’’
The Sox signed Adam Dunn to a four-year, $56 million deal to jump over from the National League to become a DH even though Dunn wasn’t familiar with that role, and that didn’t work out so well. LaRoche, 35, received a two-year, $25 million deal last offseason, and he’s still working on making that look like a good move.
That whole DH thing, it’s just a different animal.
“At times it can feel like four pinch hits for a lifetime National Leaguer,’’ LaRoche said. “Where I can get that feel to where it becomes normal, it just takes doing it. It’s more comfortable, for sure, but I still enjoy playing first on occasion, too.’’
The Sox made it clear when they signed LaRoche that Abreu, their franchise hitter, would play most of the time at first. His production, mostly out of the cleanup spot, has been below par with a .235 average, five homers and 21 RBI going into Sunday’s game against the Astros.
“It’s a challenge for most guys that do it,” manager Robin Ventura said. “Unless you’re just broken down and can’t play in the field, there’s something physically wrong with you, not too many other guys just want to hit and not play the field. So it’s a challenge for Adam or anybody else on the team.”
LaRoche agreed that some time off his feet would be good for his back. There’s no doubt he wouldn’t mind more action at first – which he might get in the coming days depending on Abreu’s finger – but he’s not the sort to ask for more.
“No, we had talks before I signed to come over here in this situation,’’ he said. “I’ve never been one, within reason, to … it’s the manager’s call, his decision. I try not to get in the way of that — what they feel is best for us to win.’’
Besides, LaRoche said he is “starting to enjoy DHing a little bit, the new challenge of it and trying to figure that out.’’
His bat has been more in line with his career numbers of late, and he’s been exceptional over his last six games with nine hits in 23 at-bats including two doubles, a homer and five RBI over the last five games. His 22 walks in May lead the American League.
As for those who say LaRoche’s defense is far superior to Abreu’s, manager Robin Ventura speaks up for Abreu’s glove work and LaRoche did, too.
“I would say he’s good and I didn’t realize that coming in,’’ LaRoche said. “I hadn’t seen him play. He’s got pretty soft hands over there. He’s a lot better than I thought, especially for someone his size. He’s made some really good plays.’’
Here’s the thing about LaRoche and being a DH. He sincerely wants to be good at it as well as being a good fielder.
“It’s almost like a new challenge now because it has been a struggle,’’ he said. “So now I want to do it even more just to prove to myself that I can figure this out.’’