2 more HRs! Schwarber on historic pace

June 25th, 2021

When signed a one-year deal with the Nationals in January following a down 2020 season in Chicago, the slugging left fielder recalled telling general manager Mike Rizzo, “I’m going to give you everything I’ve got. I’m going to invest myself into winning.”

Six months later, Schwarber has transformed himself into one of the hottest hitting players in all of baseball following a recent shift to the Nats’ leadoff spot. He has been a driving force of their turnaround -- which includes a five-game winning streak, victories in 10 of their last 11 games and a .500 record (36-36) that ranks second in the NL East after Thursday night's 7-3 win over the Marlins at loanDepot park.

“He sparks us when he gets up there that first inning and puts us on the board,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He’s a winner, he loves to compete and you’re seeing it right now.”

Schwarber belted a leadoff homer and followed it up with a three-run shot in his next at-bat the following inning, bringing his season total to 21. He became the seventh player in history to hit eight-plus home runs in a five-game span, joining Shawn Green (nine in 2002), Josh Hamilton (eight in ‘12), Barry Bonds (eight in ‘01), Manny Ramirez (eight in 1998), Frank Howard (eight in ‘68) and Ralph Kiner (eight in ‘47).

Schwarber joined an elite list of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Shohei Ohtani, Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuña Jr., Adolis García and Matt Olson with at least 20 home runs this season.

“Some of the best players in the game make it look easy,” Schwarber said. “This game is not easy at all.”

But it’s what he’s done hitting in the No. 1 spot specifically that continues to stand out. Schwarber became the first player in baseball history to homer 12 times in the leadoff spot across 13 games. Among Nationals team history (2005-present), he passed (four in 2017) for second-most leadoff home runs in a single season. Alfonso Soriano holds the club record with nine in ‘06.

The Nationals are seeing the payoff of Martinez’s lineup adjustment he implemented this month to boost the offense. The early run support gave starter a cushion to throw seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts. He improved to 4-7 with a 4.12 ERA on the season.

“It makes it a lot more satisfying, actually,” Schwarber said. “Trust me, I wouldn’t care if I was doing this and we were going out there losing baseball games. I still wouldn’t be happy. … I’m not the only component to this, trust me. This is a team game.”

For Schwarber, it’s been a bounce back from his offensive struggles last season, in which he batted just .188 with 11 homers in 191 at-bats with the Cubs. He has returned to -- and exceeded -- his 2019 form, when he belted 38 homers in 529 at-bats. That occurring one season after he was edged out by Bryce Harper in the ‘18 Home Run Derby at Nationals Park.

This year, Schwarber is seeing his work in the batting cage with a high tee pay off. He credits hitting coach Kevin Long and assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler for holding him accountable for sticking to improvements while also being encouraging of his progress along the way.

“I definitely feel like my swing overall is just in a better place than it’s been in my whole career,” Schwarber said.

Schwarber has emphasized that he’s not aiming to go yard in every at-bat, but he is riding an offensive rhythm that has him locked in and swinging with power. Once he crosses home, he is thinking about how he will approach his next plate appearance -- which, in many cases during this streak, has been another home run.

“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,” Schwarber said. “It’s the reality of this game that you know what, I’m probably not going to keep doing this the whole year. It’s physically impossible to keep doing this, but I just want to keep it going as much as I can and I just want to keep putting in good at-bats.”