KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Adam LaRoche says if he could only have more at-bats against left-handed pitchers, he would be a more productive hitter against right-handers.
LaRoche hopes to prove that point this spring, as he tries to move from his platoon role of the last two years to a full-time first baseman for the Atlanta Braves.
For the last two years, LaRoche shared time with Julio Franco at first base. The left-handed hitting LaRoche had most of the starts against right-handers. In those two seasons, however, LaRoche had only a combined 68 at-bats against left-handers.
Franco signed with the New York Mets, leaving a void LaRoche hopes to fill by starting against left-handers on a regular basis.
"It feels like it has been longer than it has," LaRoche said of the last time he hit against left-handers on a regular basis.
LaRoche acknowledges he does not yet feel comfortable against left-handers.
"I don't know how long it will take," he said. "Hopefully it will take the spring and that's it and I'll be ready to go."
Ultimately, he says facing left-handers will help his overall approach at the plate.
"I think it will help me against righties, too," LaRoche said. "Facing lefties and staying in there, it helps me with my mechanics."
LaRoche said consistent at-bats against left-handers "reinforces me going the other way" and helps him to hit to all fields.
"I faced so many righties I got pull-happy," he said. "I know when I face lefties it keeps me back to my old self going the other way. I used to never pull the ball. I'd take a pitch inside and hit it up the middle, a lot like (Marcus) Giles. That's the way I used to be and I'm really anxious to get back into that mold."
During the winter, LaRoche took swings against his father, Dave LaRoche, who spent 14 years in the big leagues as a left-handed reliever.
"He mentioned it," LaRoche said of his father. "It was something I definitely wanted to do."
Since reporting to spring training, LaRoche said he has sought out such Braves left-handers as Horacio Ramirez and Mike Remlinger "just to see pitches from that side."
LaRoche says manager Bobby Cox didn't say he will have the full-time job, but LaRoche knows this is his chance.
"He just said we didn't go out and replace Julio," LaRoche said. "He didn't say you're playing everyday. I feel like I'll get every shot to play everyday and if I don't get that full-time job I'll be blaming myself."
LaRoche hit only.259 last season with 20 homers and 78 RBIs. He hit.278 as a rookie in 2004. LaRoche hit only.188 in 48 at-bats against left-handers last season.
There are other players, including James Jurries, who are competing to fill Franco's 233 at-bats from last season.
Jurries, a right-handed hitter, hit.284 with 21 homers and 72 RBIs for Triple-A Richmond last year.
Jurries, who will turn 27 on April 13, has no major league experience. He says landing 200 or more at-bats in a first-base platoon would be the ideal introduction to the big leagues.
"I think there is a big opening to fill," Jurries said. "I hope they do give me a good look."
Jurries played second base at Tulane and has played at third, first and in the outfield in the minor leagues.
"They put me in the outfield last year, and it totally makes sense now," Jurries said, referring to the Braves' current need for a backup outfielder.
Cox says he is confident LaRoche can be a full-time player.
"He looks fine," Cox said. "He can hit them."
But Cox added: "Jurries swings the bat. He's a pretty impressive guy."
Another option at first base is Scott Thorman, perhaps a better-known prospect than Jurries. But Thorman also is a left-handed hitter and wouldn't be a logical platoon partner for LaRoche.
Thorman played at Double-A Mississippi and Richmond last season, hitting a combined total of 21 homers.
Among others taking grounders at first base Sunday were outfielder Brian Jordan and catcher Eddie Perez - two veterans looking for any way to stick in the major leagues.
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