Going into Sunday afternoon’s series finale with the New York Yankees, Kyle Schwarber had a three-game hit streak, though he’d gone just 3 for 12 over that stretch, and 16 for 84 in 22 game and 93 plate appearance this season, over which he’d walked seven times, with 28 Ks on the year.
Schwarber’s .190/.269/.333 line to that point was not what he or the Nationals were hoping for out of the 28-year-old slugger who signed a 1-year/$10M free agent deal in D.C. after the Chicago Cubs, who drafted and developed him, non-tendered the outfielder following his disappointing run in MLB’s 60-game season last summer.
Davey Martinez, who worked with Schwarber early in the 2014 1st Round pick’s time in the majors, in his role as the Cubs’ bench coach from 2015-17, has expressed confidence over the first month-plus that his left-handed hitting left fielder will start to heat up, after he got caught up in the club’s COVID crisis early this season and missed time over the first couple weeks. What has he seen from Schwarber in the first month-plus of at bats this year?
“He’s starting to get his foot down a little earlier,” Martinez said on Sunday morning.
“Hands are staying back, so that’s a good sign. Yesterday, he hit another ball to left-center field, and he struck it really well. He hit the double yesterday. So, it’s coming. And like I said before, if we’re going to succeed we need him and [Josh] Bell in the middle of that lineup to drive in some runs for us.
“But I think [Schwarber’s] swing is getting better,” the manager added, “... and he’s real close, he’s putting good at bats together.”
As he does with all his hitters, Martinez has stressed staying up the middle of the field with Schwarber, so the fly to deep left-center last in Saturday’s game was another good sign for him that things are coming along.
“I’ve seen him when he first came up and he was a gap-to-gap guy, and did really well,” the fourth-year skipper said. “He had a lot of success doing that. We’re just trying to get him back — he’s got so much power to all fields and we want him to stay in the middle of the field.”
Schwarber’s Barrel% as of Sunday morning, (8.9%), Exit Velo (90.8 MPH), and his HardHit% (46.4%) were all down a bit from the past few seasons, as was his BB% (7.5%) early this season, but his manager said he liked what he was seeing from the left-handed bat at the plate in terms of his approach.
“I saw him when he was real young, not that he’s old now, but like I said he didn’t try to do much up there, he just tried to hit the ball hard and hit the ball to the middle of the field,” Martinez said.
“He hit for average, he hit for power back then, we’re just trying to get him back to that. He struggled last year, but he also hit some balls hard last year as well. But this year he’s really hitting the ball really hard, and I tell him it’s just a matter of time before those balls will start falling in.
“It starts getting a little warmer, some of those fly balls you’re hitting could potentially be home runs, or doubles, so just stick with it. you’re doing fine.”
Schwarber’s 30.1% K% early this season (28 Ks in 94 PAs before Sunday) was up from 25.6% in 2019 and 29.5% in 2020, but not high enough to cause Martinez to hit the panic button with his outfielder. It was, however, one thing that the skipper said would cause him concern if it spiked. But to this point, he’s not worried. What’s been different in recent weeks that provides hope for a turn-around?
“For me, it’s two things,” Martinez said. “One, he needs to accept his walks, we talk about that all the time. And limit the strikeouts. If he starts striking out an abundance of times, then I start to worry a little bit. But like I said, right now, he’s hitting the ball, and I told him I said, ‘Hey, just remember, you don’t have to hit every pitch they throw up there. Take your walks. Swing at strikes.”
Schwarber went 0 for 2 through two plate appearances on Sunday afternoon, in their series finale with the Yankees, but the third time up against starter Domingo Germán, with Bell out on second base after he’d doubled to start the frame, Schwarber got all of a 1-2 fastball up in the zone and hit it 387 feet to right for a towering, two-run blast that tied things up before the Nationals ended up losing on walk-off hit in the ninth.
Schwarber and Bell combining for the two runs in that inning was something Martinez liked to see.
Visiting mom today.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) May 9, 2021
Had to drop something off. pic.twitter.com/m2lG9QZEIB
“We need them to do that. We need them to drive in runs. Bell hits the double, Schwarber comes up and hits a bomb,” Martinez said.
“They’re a big part of our lineup, man, they start getting going, we start scoring runs.”
A month-plus in, it’s been fits and starts, however, and the Nationals need both producing consistently.
“We definitely want them to find that consistency, you know, Bell came up right-handed, hit a ball hard off [Aroldis] Chapman, up the middle, but you know it’s getting better.
“We see them being more on time. Now it’s about focusing on hitting strikes.
“As you see, when they get a ball in the strike zone, they’re hitting it hard, and the other thing is that when they do get it, not to foul them off. They got to put them in play. When they do that, they’re going to be successful and we’re going to start scoring a lot of runs.”