GLENDALE, Ariz. – With the reset button firmly pressed and his knee feeling good again, Adam LaRoche arrived at White Sox camp a couple days early Sunday morning, eager to put 2015 in his rear view mirror and to get a fresh start on a DH experience that went wrong from the get-go.
Signed last offseason to a two-year, $25 million contract to bat fourth, give Jose Abreu left-handed hitting protection in the lineup, LaRoche – who hit at least 20 homers eight times, 30 doubles six times and drove in 100 runs twice as a first baseman in the National League – flopped by producing only 12 homers and 44 RBI. He batted .207 with a .293 on-base percentage.
“You start to struggle and the team’s struggling, and in the middle of it you try a little too hard and you just don’t recover,’’ LaRoche said Sunday. “I wish I could go back and redo it.’’
LaRoche does get to give it another go. And there’s no time like your first day of spring training to proceed.
“Last year sucked, it was tough,’’ he said. “But I’m over it now and we do it all over again.’’
The Sox’ hitting issues were all over the map in 2015, but LaRoche’s were smack dab in the middle of the lineup, so his came at a great cost to the club. Players are creatures of habit and routine, and the change in routine as a DH caught LaRoche off guard.
“What I didn’t realize is when you’re used to playing first [base], in a weird way it almost feels like you’re not part of the team, like you’re not in the grind with the team,’’ he said.
That he was posting consistent 0-for-4s in losing causes didn’t help in that regard, either. The emphasis now is to find a new routine that works.
“You have to come up with something,’’ LaRoche said. “I’ve heard from guys who are good at it, you have to come up with some type of routine between innings where you feel like you’re almost out there with the guys. You’re doing something, which I did mess with a little at the end of the year, whether it’s something as stupid as going into the cage and taking some ground balls. Almost standing there and watching it and staying in the game like you’re out there. I’ll continue to play with that. But you do feel a little disconnect with the guys who are out there in the grind. You almost feel like a starting pitcher.’’
It appears as though LaRoche, 36, will get every opportunity to rediscover his swing. If it’s more of the same, his leash will be shorter because he’s now in the final year of his contract.
Manager Robin Ventura said LaRoche, who tried CrossFit training for the first time in the offseason, “looks great, feels good and is going to be ready to go.’’
LaRoche did deal with a sore knee (patella tendonitis) that “just slowly got worse” but has cleared up with rest.
While saying his at-bats will have to be earned, the manager is also talking up the veteran.
“You look at his track record, he’s had seasons where [he bounced back after a down year],” said Ventura, who said LaRoche’s problems stemmed “from a combination of everything.
“When you struggle you’re trying to figure out exactly what it is and it can get to the mental where you’re in a new league, you’re DH-ing instead of playing first, you’re seeing new pitchers and it can be mechanical as well.’’
LaRoche has a Gold Glove on his resume, and he said Sunday he’d like to play more first base but he “totally understands” why Abreu, a face of the franchise, will get most of the reps.
“Now it’s to the point where I want to DH to, if nothing else to prove to myself that I can do it and be successful at it. I look forward to that,’’ he said.