LaRue dealing with frustration, uncertainty
By Marc Lancaster / Post staff reporter
Jason LaRue had his best showing at the plate in weeks Wednesday night, but he was back on the bench Thursday.
He couldn't have been surprised. Bronson Arroyo was on the mound for the Reds, and David Ross has caught each of his starts dating back to the end of spring training. Still, LaRue's frustration grows with each day spent out of the lineup, and that has been the norm lately.
"No doubt, it's hard," said LaRue. "I expect to play every day, that's what they signed me to do. For whatever reason (it hasn't happened), whether it's me struggling with the bat or whatever - I guess probably that would be the reason. But everybody knows that Jason LaRue's always been a slow starter. I get hot about two months into the year."
That has been his pattern. Last season, LaRue hit .172 with no home runs and seven RBIs through his first 28 games and .288 with 14 homers and 53 RBIs in 82 games the rest of the way.
Of course, his turning point last year came in mid-to-late May, and he's well past that mark now. Even after a 2-for-4 night Wednesday that included a couple of singles and a drive to the warning track, LaRue has just four hits in his last 44 at-bats. For the season, he's hitting just .178 with four homers and 11 RBIs.
Despite those unsightly numbers, LaRue deployed a three-pronged argument for more playing time. First, the two-year, $9.1 million deal he signed last offseason - starter's money, to be sure. Second, the fact that defense has always been his first priority and continues to be. Third, that he can't very well hit himself out of his slump if he isn't getting any at-bats.
At the same time, Ross is known for his ability to handle pitchers and he is hardly a liability defensively. Combine that with the All-Star-caliber numbers he has put up at the plate this year (.311, 10 homers, 26 RBIs in 39 games) and it's difficult to concoct an argument against having him in the lineup almost every day.
LaRue acknowledged that Ross has been hot, but stuck to his original reasoning.
"When you're a starter in this game, no matter what, you're playing every single day," he said. "My job first and foremost is to catch first and hit second, and I've always said that. That's what your good catchers do."
Tonight, Elizardo Ramirez will get the ball for the Reds. With the Indians starting right-hander Paul Byrd, chances are Javier Valentin will be behind the plate catching Ramirez.
Narron has tried to match LaRue up with Aaron Harang lately, but Harang's next start isn't until Monday. LaRue might get out there with Joe Mays on Saturday or Eric Milton on Sunday, but he won't know for sure until he gets to the ballpark each of those days. That uncertainty is as difficult as anything for the longest-tenured Red.
"I really don't know what to say," he said. "But the most important thing is, the team's winning."