09/18/08 12:03 PM ET
LaRoche aiming to buck trend in '09
Notoriously slow starter has ideas on how to open year strong
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
What: The Pirates' first baseman will be accepting any and all suggestions that could help him eliminate his slow starter label.
When: Now until Opening Day 2009.
OK, so that may be a tad facetious. But it's also not that far-fetched.
It's become somewhat of a joking matter for LaRoche, how bad he can be in April and May, and how good he can be from July 1 on. But behind the jokes, it's easy to tell that the pattern is driving him nuts.
LaRoche's numbers this season are shaping up to be much like they were last year. The first baseman opened up the 2007 season with a .133 average through the first month. His average at the end of this April? .163.
A .239 first-half batting average last year narrowly improved to a .251 one this year. And now, after beginning his second-half surge like clockwork, LaRoche is hitting just above last season's .312 second-half mark with his .318 batting average heading into Thursday's game against the Dodgers.
"We've talked about it and he realizes what goes on," manager John Russell said. "I think it's more mental than anything. We know what he can do when he's going well. He can have big games for you."
With two homers Wednesday, LaRoche stands at 22 for the season, one more than he had in 2007. And with 10 games remaining, LaRoche needs eight more RBIs to match his '07 total of 88.
But while what happens to his numbers at this point wouldn't be much more than padding, the burning question is how LaRoche can alter his habits to ensure that this frustrating trend of slow starts and hot finishes doesn't continue.
"I've got some new ideas," he said, following his five-RBI game on Wednesday. "[I've got] something to look forward to for Spring Training to hopefully get off to a little bit better start. Obviously, if I can do half of what I can do in the second half, I'll be in better shape than I am now. More importantly, we'll be in better shape as a team."
Asked to elaborate on his "ideas," LaRoche smirked.
"I'll let you know in Spring Training," he joked.
LaRoche did say that the changes had nothing to do with his offseason preparation, but were going to be focused on his regimen during Spring Training. Last year, LaRoche tried remedying the problem by doing more work in the offseason batting cages with his father Dave LaRoche, a former Major League pitcher and current Minor League pitching coach.
LaRoche said he plans to do similar work with his father this winter as well.
"Hopefully we can get it ironed out," Russell said. "I know he's looking forward to next year. I know he's looking forward to doing some things a little different to get off to a better start."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.