Nationals' LaRoche always has the scoop

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

First baseman's glove as valuable as his bat

Adam LaRoche is an infielder's best insurance policy.

The Nationals' first baseman is having a fine season at the plate with a .278 batting average, 23 home runs and 72 RBI. His OPS is .881. Only six players at his position are more productive with a bat in their hands. But where LaRoche adds value to his game is with his glove.

The evidence was everywhere you looked during Washington's last homestand. On Friday, LaRoche made a fantastic scoop on a throw from shortstop Danny Espinosa with one out in the ninth inning and the Nats up 7-4 over the Miami Marlins. The ball short-hopped the bag and easily could have skidded past LaRoche and caused problems in a game that seemed well in hand.

Nats claim Izturis
The Nationals knew they were thin at the middle infield spots with shortstop Ian Desmond on the disabled list thanks to a small tear in his left oblique muscle. But with reserve infielder Mark DeRosa now out as well with an abdominal injury, they needed to make a move. On Monday the club acquired shortstop Cesar Izturis on waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers. He will fill in with DeRosa on the 15-day disabled list. There were no other middle infielders on the roster save starters Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi. Desmond has been out two weeks and could miss as much as two more. Izturis, 32, played in 57 games as a reserve with Milwaukee this season. He won a Gold Glove at the position in 2004 while with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His bat has never been a strength, however, with a .235 batting average in 2012. - Brian McNally

"He's got great instincts. It's fun to watch him, how smooth he is," second baseman Steve Lombardozzi said. "To have a first baseman like that, you just got to get it close, and he's probably going to come up with it."

Earlier in the game, pitcher John Lannan was all set to catch a bunt that had been popped into the air with two runners on base. LaRoche said he instinctively figured the runners should be headed back to their respective bases to avoid a double play. So he called off Lannan, who admitted later he had no idea what his first baseman was up to. He just wanted the out. Instead, LaRoche let the ball fall to the ground and fired to third base for the start of a 3-5-6 double play that ended a third-inning threat by the Miami Marlins.

"He is just blessed with uncanny eye-hand coordination," MASN analyst Ray Knight said. "He is automatic. ... He's as good as I've ever seen, and I played with the guy that they thought was the best."

Knight played third base for the New York Mets when Keith Hernandez was in the midst of winning 11 National League Gold Glove Awards at first base in 13 seasons. He also noted that playing first is far more difficult than it looks. It isn't just catching other player's throws. It's dealing with short hops and long hops on different playing surfaces, making throws all across the infield, helping to hold runners close.

To go with his soft hands, LaRoche has a good throwing arm and is accurate with the ball on plays at other bases or when leading a pitcher to first. He charges bunts well, too, and teammates say he rarely makes mental errors. What makes LaRoche better than most first basemen in the field, however, is his range. Even when he holds runners close he can get off the bag quickly and make plays to his right. It doesn't hurt that he's a left-hander and the glove is already on that side of his body.

"You see him working on it every day," pitcher Ross Detwiler said. "So it's one of those things where before [LaRoche] you might kind of hold your breath. But now there's no problem. You know he's going to scoop it."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner