Long plans to unlock Schwarber's power stroke

Phils hitting coach served in same role during slugger's days with Nationals

March 20th, 2022

CLEARWATER, Fla. --  got right back in the cage on Sunday with Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long.

The Phillies hope the two pick up where they left off.

Schwarber and Long created some magic last season in Washington. Schwarber batted .253 with 25 home runs, 53 RBIs and a .910 OPS before the Nationals traded him to the Red Sox last season. He finished the season with a combined 32 home runs, 71 RBIs and a .928 OPS. His 148 OPS+ ranked ninth in baseball (minimum 450 plate appearances). His .832 slugging percentage hitting leadoff was the best single-season mark in that spot since 1900 among players with at least 100 plate appearances atop the order.

“There’s not a better guy that the Phillies could have signed,” Long said on Sunday morning at BayCare Ballpark. “He’s a grinder. They’re going to see that right away. You know Philly -- hard hat and lunch pail. That’s Kyle Schwarber.”

Long was Schwarber’s hitting coach in Washington. He will be Schwarber’s hitting coach in Philadelphia, too, after the latter signed a four-year, $79 million contract. Schwarber, who will be introduced at a press conference on Monday, signed a one-year, $10 million contract with Washington on Jan. 9, 2021. He was a bit of a reclamation project at the time, in that he batted .188 with 11 home runs, 24 RBIs and a .701 OPS with the Cubs in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

But Nationals manager Dave Martinez knew Schwarber from their time together in Chicago. He thought Long could help. But first, Long needed a scouting report. He called his son, Jaron, who pitched at Ohio State when Schwarber was one of college baseball’s best hitters at Indiana. They faced each other several times in Big Ten play.

“Was he good good?” Long asked his son.

“He was the toughest guy I’ve ever faced,” Jaron said.

“Well, what did he look like in the box?” Long said.

“He was spread out, he was into his legs,” Jaron said.

Long looked at film of Schwarber from 2020. He did not resemble the hitter that Jaron remembered. Schwarber stood more upright. His legs were closer together. He crashed at the ball. Long called Schwarber on the phone. He asked if he could visit him for a few days before Spring Training, and Schwarber said yes. Three days later, Long and his wife flew from Las Vegas to Tampa Bay, where Schwarber trained.

“I wanted to go through his swing and his thought process, and see if we could come up with some common things that he could work on,” Long said. “We went out to a field and started working. … I wanted him to get back to basically what he did at Indiana, when the Cubs made him the fourth overall pick in the [2014 MLB] Draft. It was really just letting him understand where he was, where he was today and understanding what a tight compact swing was. We got there. He’s a baseball rat. He’s a junkie. He can make adjustments very quickly, so it was a fun transition for me to get him back to where he was.”

Schwarber was looking good good again.

“Looking at the film [in 2020], there was a lot of inconsistencies, there was a lot of movement in his swing,” Long said. “The barrel accuracy wasn’t real good. He was a hooker. He came around a lot of balls. He just wasn’t tight and compact. But when you’re spread out, in his case, he created that forward movement. Now, he can let the ball travel. He can make decisions a little bit longer. He can see pitches better and kind of go from there. He’s always had a really good eye, no matter what he was doing. Is he better than a .230 lifetime career average guy? And my thought process was, yes. Let’s get the average and the consistency where it needs to be. The power will always be there. And that’s kind of what we attacked.”

The work held up. The Phillies hope to get the same from Schwarber, whether he hits leadoff or somewhere else.

“In my opinion, he does exactly what this clubhouse needs, this team needs,” Long said. “He’s going to hold everybody accountable. I would imagine he’s going to have an affect on that clubhouse as soon as he walks in. He’s a built-in leader. And he’ll lead by telling guys -- he’ll lead by example. He’ll do everything it takes to make sure that clubhouse and the environment in there is what it needs to be.”