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The trials and tribulations of Andy LaRoche


sakata_catching

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If you thought Felix Pie was having a rough time winning over certain skeptics on the OH, you should take a long look at what's been happening with Andy LaRoche since coming to Pittsburgh.

After arriving in August of last year as one of the central pieces of the Jason Bay trade, LaRoche authored a gruesome .152/.227/.232 line over 183 plate appearances. Not to worry, Pirates fans were told: he was nursing an injured thumb at the time, and was also a victim of ridiculously crappy luck (.177 BABIP). Even with Pedro Alvarez (who will almost certainly make the switch to 1B at some point) in the fold, LaRoche was still several magnitudes superior to organizational fodder like Neil Walker, a local western PA kid with not a whole lot other than his local-ness going for him. Over the offseason, GM Neil Huntington announced that the 3B job belonged to LaRoche, which didn't sit well with a number of fans.

Huntington's faith in LaRoche seemed fully warranted in spring training, where he performed very well: .333/.453/.471 with 2 HRs and 11BBs. There were some qualms over him neglecting daily exercises for a protruding disc, but all in all, I think most critics were reconciled with at the very least wiping the slate clean for 2009.

As if to singlehandedly prove the meaningless of spring training stats, LaRoche has started the season 0-16 with one walk, and has looked just as lost in the field (3 Es in 17 chances). After starting the first two games in St. Louis, manager John Russell has given 4 of 6 starts to Ramon Vasquez at third. The local media and fans have been simply brutal — case in point, in last night's loss at PNC Park to Houston, LaRoche was pulled in the 6th inning as part of a double-switch, and was replaced in the field by Luis Cruz. But because all players were wearing the #42 last night in honor of Jackie Robinson, the change went largely unnoticed; when Cruz dropped a simple pop-up that inning, people in the stands (and the pressbox!) were howling for LaRoche's immediate benching. It was an ugly, embarrassing display.

Presuming he's healthy, LaRoche needs to be getting the same shot that Pie's getting in Baltimore, but Russell's handling of him over the first 10 days of the season suggests to me that the organization may have already given up on him. There's no denying that he just looks completely lost and dejected right now, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he joined the ranks of Dallas MacPherson and Andy Marte as an eminent 3B-prospect-bust-turned-journeyman. I hope I'm wrong though.

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