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Stellar defense earns LaRoche first Gold Glove

WASHINGTON -- Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche was rewarded with his first Gold Glove Award presented by Rawlings on Tuesday night. LaRoche became the second Washington player to earn the honor after third baseman Ryan Zimmerman won in 2009.

LaRoche was nearly flawless with the glove this past season, leading all National League first basemen in fielding percentage (.995), games started (149) and innings (1,323 1/3). LaRoche also paced NL first basemen (minimum 1,000 innings) in Ultimate Zone Rating, a figure that blends the number of runs above or below average a fielder is in three categories: range runs, double-play runs, and error runs combined. He also led the NL with 159 plays made and 38 plays made out of zone.

"It's a special feeling," LaRoche said via telephone on Wednesday morning. "It's an honor to be recognized for your defensive skills. It helped I had a great infield [to play with]."

While LaRoche is known for putting up impressive numbers at the plate, LaRoche wanted people to know that he always took pride in his defense. As a kid, he enjoyed watching Keith Hernandez, Mark Grace and Don Mattingly play first base.

"I wouldn't say I tried to emulate them," LaRoche said.

It was LaRoche's glove that made the Nationals one of the best defensive teams in baseball. It seemed like he saved Zimmerman, shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa from throwing errors on a regular basis.

LaRoche often made diving plays or scooped balls in the dirt to prevent a run from scoring. LaRoche has established himself as the best defensive first baseman in Nationals history.

"Baseball revolves around being healthy," Zimmerman said. "When Adam is healthy, offensively, he has shown what he can do. But I think defensively he is one of the best, too. Very rarely at first base do you get the best of both worlds."

Said Espinosa: "He is a quiet leader. He runs his ground balls hard. He does everything the right way. He sets a good example in the clubhouse."

Rawlings established the Gold Glove Award in 1957 as the greatest measure of fielding excellence. The award is presented annually to 18 players plus ties -- one for each position -- in both the American and National Leagues.

Winners are selected by Major League Baseball managers and coaches prior to the conclusion of the regular season. Managers and coaches may not vote for players from their own club and can only vote for players in their own league.

LaRoche has a chance to become a free agent this week. He and the Nationals have a mutual option worth $10 million, and it has been reported that LaRoche is looking for multiyear deal. The first baseman said the two parties haven't talked about a contract in about a week. General manager Mike Rizzo was unavailable for comment.

Washington Nationals, Adam LaRoche