White Sox’ Adam LaRoche welcomes transition to DH
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Adam LaRoche got his first taste of being a designated hitter in a White Sox uniform in their Cactus League opener Wednesday. It’s a job he believes might agree with him.
“I do like the fact it gets me off my feet once in a while,” LaRoche, 35, said Thursday. “I have had some very minor back issues the last couple of years that come and go and I think a lot of that is just from standing around when you’re out there at first base, standing the whole game. So getting off my feet a little, hopefully I won’t have to battle that any more. So it will be nice.”
LaRoche, a career National Leaguer who played in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Washington (he played six AL games for the Red Sox in 2009), was signed as a free agent to a two-year, $25 million contract during the offseason. He will share time with Jose Abreu at first and DH the rest of the time. How it’s split up remains to be seen, but there is going to be a learning curve at DH and with facing AL pitching.
“It will be a different mindset but I’m sure I can pick up,” said LaRoche, who has discussed the DH ‘position’ with Jim Thome and others. “We’ve been talking quite a bit. It will be easier to get a better feel once I get started. You can only talk about it so much, you have to experience it.”
On Wednesday, LaRoche doubled to deep center in his second at bat, scoring a pair of runs in a 6-4 White Sox victory.
LaRoche, a Gold Glove winner in 2012, has played 1,420 career games at first. He has DH’d seven times.
“I don’t know that I’m that old yet where I need to be a full time DH,” he said. “I’m going to see how it plays out. That will be up to Robin, a couple of times a week or whatever but I’m still going to play first.”
The adjustment to DH-ing will probably be more of a challenge than to the new league, he expects.
“Hitting is hitting, ‘ ” LaRoche said. “Everything is the same distance, same dimension. The difference is having been in the National League you get more comfortable facing the same guys, having an idea how they’re going to pitch you. So it will be more video, talking to guys about pitchers I haven’t faced. But I’m used to going out and playing defense and both sides of the ball.”
That’s the other part of all this. Abreu, although improved at first base during his first season, isn’t as good with the glove as the left-handed LaRoche. Because of his stature as much as anything, Abreu is viewed as the primary guy at the position. But both players have made it clear they’re about winning, and both would seem to benefit from a job share, Abreu having to deal with ankle and foot issues from time to time and LaRoche happy to give his back a break.
When the Sox signed LaRoche, general manager Rick Hahn discussed the situation with Abreu, who said something along the lines of “Great, what are you going to do about improving the pitching?” Hahn said this offseason.
“That’s why he has so much respect he has around here,” LaRoche said. “Not just for what he does but the kind of guy he is. From what I’ve seen he truly is pulling in the direction of the way this team wants to go. It’s pretty cool.”
Because Abreu’s English remains a work in progress, LaRoche and Abreu are getting some hand signals down to enhance communication. LaRoche has seen enough and heard enough from teammates to know what Abreu is about.
“Away from what he can do on the field, he’s just a solid guy,” LaRoche said. “Love being around him. And man, he’s a workhorse. Every time I look up he’s hitting in the cage or doing something somewhere. You can tell he wants it, He wants to be good. But more importantly, talking to the guys around here he wants to win. He’s a winner.”