At the news conference introducing him as the Washington Nationals’ first baseman, Adam LaRoche tried on a red cap with the curly white “W,” and it felt a little big. So he checked inside and, sure enough, saw it was the wrong size — 7 3/4 instead of his usual 7 3/8.
Then, as is customary at such events, LaRoche donned his new team’s jersey, a white No. 25, but flubbed the buttons, missing the top one. When the first question from a reporter came, LaRoche paused before answering and adjusted the buttons, saying, “Hang on one second. Sorry. Having some issues today.”
Friday’s wardrobe problems aside, the Nationals are sure they found the right match in LaRoche, a free agent who agreed last week to a two-year deal with a mutual option for 2013. The contract reportedly guarantees him $16 million.
General manager Mike Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman described LaRoche as someone who will improve Washington’s defense and its versatility on offense, two goals this offseason.
LaRoche is “a player that we identified early in the process as a guy that fit perfectly for our ballclub — offensively, defensively, left side of the plate, great character on and off the field, good in the dugout, good in the clubhouse, good in the community,” Rizzo said.
Riggleman praised LaRoche as “outstanding” defensively and said he probably will hit fourth or fifth in the lineup, with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman at No. 3, and new right fielder Jayson Werth — he of the $126 million, seven-year contract — filling another 3-4-5 spot.
LaRoche, who has a .995 career fielding percentage, takes over at first base for Adam Dunn, who left to sign with the Chicago White Sox.
“I don’t compare myself to Adam. I think we’re two different players, other than that we play the same position,” LaRoche said. “I’m not going to come in and put pressure on myself to try to do what he did and match his numbers, good or bad, defense, offense.”
The 31-year-old LaRoche hit .261 with 25 homers and a career-high 100 RBIs for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, when he struck out 172 times. He has a career .271 average with 161 homers and 569 RBIs during seven major league seasons with four clubs.
LaRoche acknowledged he’s looked forward to facing the last-place Nationals in the past — and he hopes to help change the way opponents view the team.
“I can tell you how I saw it playing against these guys for a few years — and that was pretty comfortable, coming in here to play a series,” he said.
Additions such as Werth are part of what can start changing that, LaRoche noted.
“I think I can speak for everybody here: They’re just tired of losing. And that’s why a lot of these moves are taking place, moving in a positive direction,” he said. “As far as the respect from other teams and getting teams to come in here and actually be nervous, and not looking forward to playing the Nationals — (that’s) the ultimate goal.”