ATLANTA -- After missing most of last season due to injury and struggling offensively in the limited time he was healthy, Adam LaRoche may have slugged his way into the Nationals' plans for 2013.
LaRoche has a $10 million mutual contract option for next season, and manager Davey Johnson said Sunday there was "no question about it" that he would encourage both sides to pick up that option. LaRoche, who hit his 30th home run Saturday night and has 94 RBIs to go along with a .269/.340/.505 batting line entering Sunday, has previously expressed interest in picking up that option and remaining in Washington.
"I was unhappy to hear that he could test the free-agent market," Johnson said. "We need him back more than we need me back."
In addition to his big offensive numbers, LaRoche has helped bring balance to a lineup that was predominantly right-handed in 2011 and provided a strong, steady defensive presence at first base.
"Obviously, we missed him last year. It's funny what a difference a year makes," Johnson said. "What he's doing is incredible. Offense has been outstanding. He's carried us a lot, had a lot of big hits for us. But the defense is what I really love. His defensive prowess has really gotten us one of the best defensive infields in the league, by far."
Johnson hasn't started pushing LaRoche to stay with the Nationals quite yet, but he noted that he has plenty of time to plead his case, smiling as he kicked around ideas to persuade LaRoche into staying.
"He won't have to give me shots next year in golf or something. That'll hook him in," Johnson said. "He doesn't have to let me play the up tees anymore when we drive. He hits it a long way."