The Nationals welcomed Rick Schu as their new hitting coach Tuesday, looking to turn around a team that has struggled with inconsistent hitting all season.
The Nationals are 13th in the National League in batting average (.240) and 14th in runs scored (367).
Schu spent the last four seasons as the Nationals’ minor league hitting coordinator. He has watched and coached six teams in the organization before arriving in D.C. to replace the fired Rick Eckstein
Schu has been a hitting coach for 16 seasons and spent nine years as a big league player.
“You never know in this business, I have been (in) it for 32 years as a player and a coach. I have been in the major leagues as a hitting coach. I know the pressures up here,”
Schu was busy working in the minors in the Gulf Coast League this week when he heard the news and was offered the job.
“Kind of I heard grumblings,” Schu said. “I was kind of surprised. I know Rick really well. He is a workaholic. He is a great hitting coach. I know he works hard. I didn’t know that move would happen. When it did, I will do whatever the organization asks me to do. Whether it be in the Gulf Coast League, Triple-A or the big leagues, wherever (general manager Mike) Rizzo needs me.”
Schu spent 2010 and 2011 working with Bryce Harper. He has coached Anthony Rendon, Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina and many others, so he knows the hitters well.
“I got relationships will all these guys,” Schu said. “I had some of the players in Arizona (Fall League) and had a lot of these kids in the minor leagues, I had guys like (Jayson) Werth, Willie (Ramos) down in the minors while on rehab. The relationship is there, the trust is there, which is huge as a hitting guy.”
Having played at every level and seen success and tough times, Schu believes he can relate to what these guys go through and how he can help them at the plate.
“I have been a prospect coming up with the Philadelphia Phillies,” Schu said. “I have been that bench guy and I have been the suspect. I have done every role. I was a superstar in Japan, I hit a bunch of home runs. So I kind of understand what the players go through. I think I can relate to them.”
Schu broke down the basic outline of what he is looking to accomplish as a hitting coach and what he believes is going on with the struggling Nationals.
“My philosophy is I want to be aggressive, I want to hunt fastballs,” he said. “I would like to see us put the ball in play more. We got four teams in first place in the minor leagues.
“It is not so much for being more talented. I think it is more committing to the team concept of moving runners, putting the ball in play with two strikeouts, grinding at-bats. I think that is what this team is capable of doing. We just need to get back to it.”
Schu said, as with any team, when you squeeze the bat too hard, it is difficult to get results. That might be what is happening with the Nationals. He remembers similar situations with the Diamondbacks, with a pair of teams that had really the same bunch of guys and was able to succeed when a few seasons prior they struggled.
“Sometimes, when you try too hard, it make things worse. It is difficult, it kind of compounds things,” Schu said. “I have been on both ends. In 2004, I was in the big leagues (with Arizona), we tried too hard and didn’t get ‘er done. In 2007, we won our division by one game and swept the Cubs in the divisional series. It was a great year.”
Schu took the Nationals’ 6-5 loss to the Pirates on Monday as an example. The team was down 5-0, and battled back to get within a run before a rally in the bottom of the ninth fell short.
“Everything snowballs,” Schu said. “Last night, they battled back, a couple of runs from winning a ball game. Something like that, where they battle back, can be just as productive. It just takes a couple of games of winning to get back on track.
“I think these guys care so much, they put so much pressure on themselves, which is counterproductive. They need to get to where they can relax a little bit and let the game come to them. I tell my minor league guys all the time to slow the game down a little bit. If we are able to slow the game down a little bit, I think we will be able on a roll.”
But it the end, Schu is thankful to be back in the show.
“It is a strange game, you never know what can happen,” Schu said. “Glad I got an opportunity to be a part of it.”