“Kyle Schwarber hit 16 home runs - including seven leadoff home runs - during the month of June,” Washington’s Nationals noted in their 2021 Season in Review, which was “... the most in any single month in Nationals’ history (2005-pres.), and the second-most hit in the month of June in Major League history behind Sammy Sosa (20 in June 1998).”
That run by Schwarber, the 28-year-old slugger, who’d signed a 1-year/$10M with the Nats after Chicago non-tendered him last winter — following six seasons with the Cubs, who’d drafted him 4th overall in 2014 — was one of the highlights of a disappointing 2021 campaign in D.C., but he was injured after he’d cooled down some (going homer-less over a three-game stretch), and was subsequently traded at the July 30th deadline, as one of the veterans on expiring deals who was dealt to kick off the Nationals’ organizational reboot.
In his brief stay in the nation’s capital, Schwarber made quite an impression, starting slowly, but picking things up and going on the otherworldly run which saw him put up a stunningly good .348/.403/1.044 line (1.446 OPS?) in 18 games and 77 plate appearances in June.
“Schwarber didn’t hit his first home run,” in that run, “until June 12 vs. San Francisco... from that date until June 29 vs. Tampa Bay, he hit 16 home runs in 18 games, becoming the third player in MLB history to hit 16 homers in 18 games (Barry Bonds, 2001; Sammy Sosa, 1998).”
Schwarber talked on June 20th, after a 3-HR game against the New York Mets (which came a day after a 2-homer game against the Nationals’ NL East rivals) about what he thought the key was during that stretch.
“Obviously like I’ve said before, the consistent work in the cage I think has been a big thing,” he explained, “... and I think overall just feeling comfortable at the plate, I think that’s a big contributor, and I’m not going up there just trying to hit home runs, I’m just — got a guy on second base, trying to drive him in and the ball hits the top of the fence, goes out, things like that. There’s a little bit of luck involved, but happy to get the job done.”
The big thing for him, Schwarber said, was stepping up to the plate feeling comfortable so that he could put what he’d practiced into play.
“I’m a big believer in that hitting is a feeling,” he told reporters.
“Don’t get me wrong, there’s mechanical, there’s approach and things like that, but when you step in the box and everything feels right, you’ve already got a big advantage.
“It’s just a matter of — I would say trusting everything else, and that’s what I’ve been doing, is just trusting and not trying to do too much. And you know what, I don’t want to expand, I’m not trying to swing at balls out of the zone, and if you take a walk you pass it on to the next guy.”
Schwarber’s run coincided with a move to the leadoff spot early in June for the start of the club’s series with Tampa Bay, which manager Davey Martinez hoped would spark both the slugger and his team as a group.
“I knew I was like 0 for whatever rolling into Tampa,” Schwarber said, “and I know he put me up in the leadoff spot there against [Tyler] Glasnow, and obviously, went 0 for whatever it is, but got the hit out of the way the next day and was able to keep rolling from there. So, I think — everyone can attribute it to the leadoff spot and things like that, and it’s fun to get instant offense up there, first batter, but I just want to be able to keep putting in quality at-bats for the guys behind me, and yeah, cool, home run, whatever, but work the pitcher, not let him feel comfortable, not let him feel like he’s going to be able to settle in right away and feel out his pitches, and hopefully the guys behind me get a mistake and take advantage of it.”
That three-homer game against the Mets came at the end of a homestand which saw him hit nine home runs in 11 games and 43 PAs.
“It was amazing,” Martinez said of what he saw from Schwarber in that stretch, “but as I’ve said before, I’ve seen Kyle get hot and start swinging the bat and hit the ball like that.
“When he squares balls up, he hits them far. And not only that — his hits in-between, him driving in runs, I’ve seen him do it, but it’s been amazing to watch, fun to watch, and he’s lifted up this team tremendously.”
And while he was clearly enjoying himself during that run, Schwarber took it all in stride and just kept plugging away.
“He just wants to help the team win honestly,” Martinez said. “And when you talk to him, he’s all about winning.
“He doesn’t care who has the spotlight or who does what, or if he’s 0 for 4, with 4 strikeouts and we win the game, he’s about as happy as you can be.
“And that’s him. He just wants to win.”
Staying locked in for that long of a stretch of course, not getting too high when you’re hitting the ball out of the yard regularly, is important, but also not letting yourself start swinging for the fences once you get on a roll.
“Yeah, I think that’s kind of the biggest thing is not going up there trying to think hit the ball in the air, or don’t hit it on the ground, things like that,” Schwarber said, “... and you know, I think that’s kind of the biggest thing is just being able to — yeah, you’re going to celebrate a home run, but also being able to turn the page and focus on your next at-bat, because it’s a different situation every time.”
While taking it all in stride, as Schwarber did, he also recognized that he was doing things that few other hitters had done.
“This game is not easy, at all,” he said. “I firmly believe that this is one of hardest games in all professional sports. And when you’re doing something like this, you kind of just sit back and laugh, because you don’t want it to end, so that’s why you just keep going and doing work.
“It’s the reality of this game that I’m probably not going to keep doing this the whole year,” he acknowledged.
“It’s physically impossible to keep doing this. But I just want to keep going as much as I can, and I want to keep putting in good at-bats. And if it’s a home run so be it, but you know if it’s an RBI single that’s a jam shot over the third baseman’s head, I’ll be just as happy, and I think the team will be too. That’s the big thing — is just we’re going in there, we’re all not trying to hit home runs, we’re all just going up there trying to put in good at-bats and pass the baton and score runs for our starters.”