February 22, 2016

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Adam LaRoche showed up for spring training as eager as any Chicago White Sox player for a fresh start.

The way last season went, it's not hard to see why.

''Last year sucked,'' he said. ''It was tough.''

LaRoche is looking to rebound after struggling with a switch to designated hitter, and the White Sox are trying to establish themselves as playoff contenders following a season that went awry.

Brimming with high expectations after acquiring LaRoche, Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson in a series of high-profile moves, the White Sox became one of the major leagues' biggest disappointments.

Now, after a 76-win season, they believe they are poised to contend.

Chris Sale leads what could be a deep rotation, and Jose Abreu is a top slugger. They acquired All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier from Cincinnati in a three-team trade and adding Brett Lawrie to their infield.

Signed to a $25 million, two-year contract to give Abreu left-handed protection in the middle of the lineup, LaRoche produced one of his worst seasons since he debuted in 2004.

His .207 average and .293 on-base percentage ranked among the lowest of his career. He went from hitting 20 or more home runs at least nine times and knocking in 100 runs twice to producing just 12 homers and 44 RBIs last season.

''He is a guy that's calm, cool and collected, is strong as a man and understands that there's always tomorrow and going out and producing tomorrow,'' Adam Eaton said. ''So I think he is a true leader on and off the field.''

LaRoche certainly wasn't the only hitter to struggle on a team that ranked 28th in runs. The adjustment to designated hitter with Abreu at first base after playing the field his entire career was tougher than LaRoche expected.

''You have to come up with something,'' he said. ''I've heard from guys who are good at it, you have to come up with some type of routine between innings where you feel like you're almost out there with the guys. You're doing something, which I did mess with a little at the end of the year, whether it's something as stupid as going into the cage and taking some ground balls. Almost standing there and watching it and staying in the game like you're out there. I'll continue to play with that. But you do feel a little disconnect with the guys who are out there in the grind. You almost feel like a starting pitcher.''

LaRoche has come back from subpar years in the past.

He went from batting a career-worst .172 with three homers in an injury-shortened 2011 season for Washington in 2011 to hitting 33 homers with 100 RBIs in 2012. In 2014, he finished with a .259 average, 26 homers and 92 RBIs compared to .237, 20 and 62 in 2013.

Now, at age 36, it looks like LaRoche will get a chance for another turnaround.

''You look at his track record, and he's had seasons where some have been below what would be for him a good year and he's come right back and had a great one,'' manager Robin Ventura said. ''The biggest thing right now is he comes in in a great frame of mind to help us win games. From there, you see where that leads us.''

LaRoche said he is feeling better after being bothered by tendinitis in his right knee over the final two months. He also ''got hooked'' on CrossFit training in the offseason after a friend urged him to try it.

LaRoche, who won a Gold Glove with Washington in 2012, would love more time in the field. But with Abreu at first base, he understands why that is not happening.

Instead, LaRoche is out to show he can be an effective DH.

''It's to the point where I want to DH to, if nothing else, prove to myself that I can do it and be successful at it,'' he said. ''I look forward to that.''

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