Adam LaRoche hoped that it wouldn't come down to shoulder surgery.
Three weeks after the Washington Nationals placed him on the disabled list, that was no longer a possibility.
Thursday, LaRoche will undergo the first operation of his life when team medical director Wiemi Douoguih performs surgery on the torn labrum in his left shoulder, effectively ending the first baseman's season.
"It was in the back of my mind that this was a possibility," LaRoche said. "I didn't want to talk about it because it was something I was hoping would go in the other direction, and it didn't. I'm comfortable we've done everything we could possibly do to find out if it needs surgery. I took two weeks of nothing other than rehab every day on the shoulder, no hitting, no throwing, came back and tried to do both and it felt the same. When I felt that and was in that position, I knew it was time to get it taken care of."
The recovery time for the procedure will depend on the damage Douoguih finds. It could range anywhere from four months to seven months, but it's believed LaRoche will be ready for spring training in 2012.
LaRoche signed a two-year, $16 million deal last offseason. His first year as a National is over, and it comes with a .172 batting average and .258 slugging percentage in 43 games.
"It's disappointing," he said. "You're part of something for a while and then the last couple weeks, not playing, I realize I'm still on the roster, but you don't feel like you're still on the team. As a baseball player, in the game, this is probably the worst news you can hear, that you've got a season-ending surgery."
"It's disappointing because it negatively affects the ball club," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "It takes a Gold Glove first baseman and 25 homers and 80 to 100 RBI out of your lineup, which will affect any team."
It was, obviously, the one thing LaRoche and the Nationals were trying to avoid. LaRoche first alerted the team to the pain in spring training. An MRI revealed a slight tear, and he was told that with strengthening exercises and treatment he would be able to play through it. He then received a cortisone shot just before the season. Though LaRoche didn't experience pain, he knew his strength wasn't the same.
The most recent MRI, LaRoche said, revealed a "very large" tear. It was significantly worse because of playing with it.
"I think everything we did was to try to safely get Adam out there and finish the season," Douoguih said. "As soon as we recognized that this was something more problematic, we did a standard program — we shut him down, put him on anti-inflammatories, we then progressed to an injection, shut him down after that. We then tried to work him back in. Everything we did was really gradual, textbook."
That left LaRoche with no regret on the path that was chosen for him.
"I would be [disappointed] if I was stubborn about it and was given advice to either rehab it or go get it taken care of and that wasn't the case," he said. "I think it was well worth it at the time to give it a shot and try to play this season. I told you guys in spring, it hurts to throw, period. But I can live with that if it doesn't affect my swing, I don't mind going the whole year with it being painful to throw.
"It started out OK, and then that just wasn't the case. It started affecting me at the plate and that's when I've got to weigh it. Am I really helping this team out by going out there at 50-60 percent, battling an injury? It's not worth it. ... I think it's a little bit of a blessing catching it early and hopefully by spring training I'm 100 percent again."
The Nationals will continue to go with Michael Morse at first base — a position he's manned exceptionally well since LaRoche was put on the disabled list. Since May 1, Morse is hitting a robust .360 and has continued an errorless streak that dates to 2005.
"It's too bad," said right fielder Jayson Werth. "He's definitely going to be missed for sure. But when him and [Ryan Zimmerman] were out of the lineup, other guys are going to have to pick up. Mikey-Mo (Morse) has been doing a great job over here. He's really turned first base into his own. Hopefully, he can keep it going and keep swinging it and kind of lessen the blow a little bit of losing a player like Adam LaRoche."
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Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.
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