Kyle Schwarber bristled when his defensive deficiencies in left were mentioned in the first Zoom call he held with reporters in the nation’s capital, after he signed a 1-year/$10M free agent deal in January.
“Everyone likes to look at these numbers and stuff and just bang me on it for some reason,” Schwarber said.
“But I view myself as a good outfielder. You know what ... I’m going to go out there and I’m going to make the play that I need to make. I’m going to play 110%. That’s the way I want to play. I don’t care who’s pitching. I don’t care if it’s our Cy Young or if it’s we’re getting blown out in the eighth inning, I’m going go out there and I’m going to still play at 110% and try to make every play that I can.
“And I view myself as — I’ve improved a lot since 2015. And I think I became a definitely above average defender.”
The plan from the start in D.C. was to play him in left as much as possible this season, and his manager’s show of faith extended to the left-hand hitting slugger’s career numbers vs left-handed pitching (.201/.305/.359 line). In spite of that line, the skipper said he told the Nationals’ outfielder he would play against right and left hand pitching.
“I talked to him before he signed here about lefties,” Davey Martinez said after Schwarber hit a walk-off home run off Arizona Diamondbacks’ lefty Alex Young in Friday night’s game.
“I want him to hit lefties,” Martinez explained. “We didn’t sign him here to platoon. So he is going to get an opportunity to hit lefties, and you see what happens when he stays on the ball, he hits it really far.”
Schwarber said the sentiment meant a lot to him when he heard it from Martinez, who he knew from the time the two spent together in Chicago, when the current manager in D.C. was the bench coach and the outfielder played left field for the Cubs.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s great,” Schwarber said. “I know that I’m a really good hitter, and I know that I can do it every day, I mean, shoot, I’ve done it my whole life, coming up in the minor leagues, and I’m just happy for the opportunity to be here and to be able to grind. I don’t care if it’s right/left, I’m just going up there trying to put in a quality at bat.”
In his pregame Zoom call with reporters on Saturday morning, Martinez was asked if his left fielder is the kind of player who uses criticism to motivate himself to improve aspects of his game that are lacking.
HI hello, here's one of my favorite things:— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) April 17, 2021
The fielders leaving the field being captured on these Statcast diagrams of walk-offs
In this case, Kyle Schwarber's 463-ft walk-off HR ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/gtVSAJpFUC
“You never can say to him he can’t do this. He’s going to try to prove you wrong,” Martinez said.
“He’s a can-do guy, and he wants to get better,” the manager added. “He’s out there every day with [Third Base and outfield coach] Bobby [Henley] working on his defense. He’s out there every day with [Hitting Coach Kevin] Long in the cage and working on his swing.
“This guy, he wants to be an all-around baseball player, he takes pride in his game and he takes pride in helping us win.”
Schwarber ran through Friday’s at bat, which ended with the walk-off blast, and his thinking throughout it, explaining what he saw and how he reacted to what the D-backs’ lefty did.
“I faced him the night before,” Schwarber said of an at bat against Young in the first of three in D.C. on Thursday, “and got the walk there, but he started me off with a couple sinkers in, then today, first pitch sinker, and then went breaking ball, something down, and then came back with the sinker in, and I wasn’t trying in that spot to hit a homer, I was just trying to put [together] a quality at bat, get the barrel on the ball, and that was the result.”
Martinez, who copped to watching Schwarber’s 463 foot blast “quite a bit” after Friday’s game, said the slugger’s plate discipline in that at bat helped him get the result he did.
“We talked about, one, him hitting strikes and laying off the bad pitches. When he does that, Kyle can hit, whether it’s left-handed pitching or right-handed pitching, and not chasing, get the balls in the strike zone. And he did that last night. He got a ball up in the zone and put a really good swing on it, and you guys all know the results. When he does that, he can hit the ball a long way.”
Is the blast a good sign that the work he’s putting in to improve against lefties is paying off?
What’s the key to success against lefties for Schwarber?
“For him against lefties, he’s got to let the ball travel,” Martinez said. “As we tell him all the time, he’s got to let the ball travel and see the ball deep, and he does that. I never put it in his head once that he can’t hit lefties.
“I told him the day he signed here, the first question he asked me, he says, ‘What’s going to be my role?’ I said, ‘Hey, you signed here to play every day. Play every day.’ I said, ‘I’m going to put you out there and you are going to play every day until you prove me otherwise.’
“He thought that was awesome. I’m going to give him every opportunity to go ahead and hit because I know what he can do and I know that when he’s in there every day — and sometimes, when I was a hitter and I faced left-handed pitching, it helped me stay in there, so it was good for me to face some left-handed pitchers, especially when I was facing righties, because it really helped me keep my front shoulder in.”
Will the support he gets from his one-time bench coach with the Cubs help Schwarber to bounce back after a down year in Chicago in 2020, which ended with the 2014 1st Round pick getting non-tendered? Martinez and the Nationals are hoping it does.
Schwarber collected three more hits on Saturday afternoon, leaving him with a .308 AVG overall on the year.