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Andy LaRoche adjusts to environment

Pirates/MLB Videos

Monday, March 9, 2009

BRADENTON, Fla. — Andy LaRoche moves around a lot.

Last season, he bounced between the minors and majors in the Los Angeles Dodgers' system. Then he was traded to the Pirates, which meant another new city and new faces.

LaRoche didn't want to seem like a tourist in his new clubhouse. He wanted to contribute right away and in a big way.

"I was trying to prove I belonged here," LaRoche said. "I had big shoes to fill, with them getting rid of Jason Bay. I started off OK, then started struggling a little bit. The more I struggled, the more I tried to do, and the more I struggled. The numbers speak for themselves, how horrible it was."

In 49 games with the Pirates, LaRoche batted .152 with three homers and 12 RBI. He made nine errors at third base.

A right-handed hitter, LaRoche quickly realized the enormity of left-center field at PNC Park. Fly balls that might have gone out of Dodger Stadium were just long outs in Pittsburgh.

LaRoche got homer happy ... without actually hitting homers. He started turning on inside pitches, trying to pull them down the line and into the left field rotunda.

"I should have been thinking, 'All right, just get a base hit right here,' " he said. "I was hitting, let's say .215 with a couple home runs. I figured, the average is going nowhere, so I needed power numbers. At least let me hit .200 with nine or 10 (homers) instead of .240 with three. But it kept getting worse and worse."

By the end of the season, LaRoche was frazzled and filled with self doubt. Instead of relaxing in the offseason, he couldn't stop thinking about baseball.

"It was mostly bad thoughts," LaRoche said.

LaRoche went to Seattle for a one-on-one workout with hitting coach Don Long. Watching video, they noticed LaRoche was moving his head forward during his swing and lunging at the ball.

With a few small adjustments, LaRoche "quieted" his swing and improved his approach at the plate. The results are evident this spring.

Sunday, LaRoche went 2 for 2 as the designated hitter in the Pirates' 11-4 rout of the Astros. LaRoche has hit safely in all seven games in which he's played, and is batting .600 (9 for 15) with one homer and four RBI.

"He's using the middle of the field," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Is he still swinging and missing sometimes• Yeah, but for the most part, he's giving himself a chance to have a quality at-bat every pitch."

Even though top prospects Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker are in spring camp, LaRoche doesn't feel pressure. Management has told LaRoche the third base job is his to lose.

"He's a lot more relaxed," manager John Russell said. "He understands what he went through last year. We talked about it. He admits that he put too much pressure on himself, trying to do too much. We'll have to monitor that. We just want him to be himself."

Seattle wasn't LaRoche's only road trip during the offseason. He made a couple of stops each in Pittsburgh and Bradenton for workouts. On a whim, he flew from Kansas to Miami for a long weekend. He helped a buddy drive an RV from Los Angeles to Oklahoma, and they spent a few days in Las Vegas when the big camper broke down in the desert.

"I flew from there to Houston to see a friend of mine," LaRoche said. "Then, back to L.A. Then, Oklahoma City."

You'd think that after all the traveling LaRoche does during the regular season, the last thing he'd want to do in the winter is move around even more.

"I don't have a family or anything, so I move around," LaRoche said. "I don't like staying around one place too long. That's what I'm used to."

Sitting on the stool at his locker, Adam LaRoche smiled as he eavesdropped on his little brother's travelogue.

"Aw, he's got nobody who loves him," Adam LaRoche teased.

Andy did not take the bait.

"I live out of a suitcase, pretty much year round," Andy LaRoche said. "Until I meet that right somebody and settle down, this is how it is."

Additional Information:

Today's game

Red Sox vs. Pirates

1:05 p.m. · McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla.

Radio/TV: None

Pirates probable starter: LHP Tom Gorzelanny

Red Sox probable starter: LHP Jon Lester




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