It's April, and LaRoche remains hitless wonder
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MIAMI -- Adam LaRoche, who needed a pick-me-up in the worst way, could not have asked for a better situation. The opposition was the Florida Marlins, against whom he was batting .393 with two homers in the past eight games. Better still, the Marlins pitcher was Scott Olsen, against whom he has batted 10 times in his career and delivered 6 hits, 3 homers and 6 RBIs.
Sure enough, with two on and one out in the first last night at Dolphin Stadium, LaRoche crushed a Olsen pitch and sent a screaming bouncer up the middle, certain to score Nate McLouth from second base. But there was second baseman Dan Uggla diving to snare the ball, flipping it to shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who stepped on second and threw to first for a double play.
A run-scoring single became an inning-ending double play, and LaRoche's April tribulations continued.
On a night when the Pirates blew a three-run lead and lost, 5-4, to the Marlins, when Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson both sat out with injuries, with Wilson's having the potential to put him on the disabled list, the most searing development in the young season is the baffling inability of LaRoche to do much of anything in the month of April.
To compound his misery, his throwing error in the fourth allowed the Marlins to score a run.
The Pirates need LaRoche to be productive if they are to make any kind of a run at respectability this season. They need him in April, when the foundation for a successful season is built. But there's no indication LaRoche will be there for them this month. He has a long and loud history of stunning ineptitude in April, and it continues.
After just missing a run-scoring single in the first, LaRoche returned to his usual April mode, which is to say he was hitless the remainder of the night. There's no accounting for this dismal play because for most of the other five months of the season LaRoche is an accomplished hitter.
When LaRoche doubled and singled in his first two at-bats this season, it was taken by some as an indication his early season troubles might be in the past. Except for this: The Pirates' first game was in March.
After those first two hits, LaRoche grounded into a double play, struck out twice, was intentionally walked and flied out. In the next game, the first one in April, he was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. The next night he was 0 for 5 with two strikeouts. He finished last night hitless in four at-bats with nothing remotely resembling a hit after the first.
With a runner on second and two out in the eighth, manager Fredi Gonzalez brought in left-hander Taylor Tankersley to face LaRoche. On a 2-2 count, after looking at two strikes and fouling two back, LaRoche struck out swinging on a breaking ball.
If you're counting, that was 17 consecutive outs.
For the season LaRoche is batting .105. For April, he is batting .000. With runners in scoring position, he's .000 (0 for 5), with runners on base he's .091 (1 for 11).
He batted .133 (11 for 83) last April. For his career, he's batting .176 (51 for 290) in April. In no other month is his batting average lower than .250. He is a lifetime .273 hitter.
It's a mystery to one and all.
LaRoche picks his words carefully when talking about his April ordeal. He's a smart guy, a good guy. He doesn't want to come off as not caring, but he doesn't want to accentuate the negative.
"It is what it is," he said. "I'm going to do everything I can to get rolling a little sooner this year. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen."
Manager John Russell might want to think about benching LaRoche when the teams play against tonight. But with Sanchez and Wilson both hurting, but still counting on the roster, Russell doesn't have a lot of maneuverability.
"I haven't even thought about it," he said.
Russell said he likes LaRoche's "approach" and that he's "getting good swings."
But they've produced next to nothing.
LaRoche has no answers.
"I know what I'm capable of doing," he said. "Something just seems to click every year. I don't think it's going to take as long as it has in the past. This is a new year. Hopefully, it will be two or three games and be done with it."
It's four games going on five and, if history is a barometer, it could go longer.
If the Pirates, 2-2 after four games, have any hope of getting the good start they absolutely need, LaRoche needs to think this is May or June or August. Anything but April.
First Published April 5, 2008 12:00 am