New Nationals left fielder Kyle Schwarber is not the first player to admit that the abbreviated 60-game 2020 regular season was abnormal and that his numbers at the plate are not a reflection of what to expect from the power hitter.
In 2019, Schwarber played in 155 games and hit .250 with a career-high .531 slugging percentage, 38 homers and 92 RBIs. In three seasons from 2017 to 2019, Schwarber smacked 94 homers and 212 RBIs. But in 59 games in 2020, Schwarber hit just .188 with 11 homers and a .393 slugging percentage.
“It was a challenging year just on everyone in general,” Schwarber said Saturday on a Zoom video call with reporters. “We were playing 60 games. It’s a sprint. There was no real time to kind of take a deep breath. I like to go back and re-evaluate things and run through thoughts. I keep some notes and run through some video.”
Schwarber mentioned his excitement to go back and break down his swing from start to finish, analyzing his approach at the plate. He talked about the respect he has for Nats hitting coaches Kevin Long and Pat Roessler.
“I think the biggest thing for me is getting back into my legs,” Schwarber said. “I felt like I was really out of my legs this past year. Just traveling a little bit too far forward. It only allowed me to do one thing, which was either get extension or it’s a rollover. I think that’s the biggest thing was being able to stay in my legs, stay behind the baseball. I’m really excited to work with Kevin Long and Pat (Roessler). Had a conversation with Kevin Long not too long ago and we’re going to sit down here soon and talk some hitting and talk about what I want to accomplish. I’m really looking forward to having this conversation with him.”
Schwarber will be tasked with the responsibility of manning the cleanup spot in a revamped Nats batting order, which had to rely too often on just the offense of Trea Turner and Juan Soto in a forgettable 2020 campaign. Now the Nats have added sluggers Josh Bell and Schwarber in the past few weeks, and look for the return of a healthy veteran in Starlin Castro. Schwarber is thrilled to be able to play on the same team with Soto.
“I definitely think this lineup’s going to be dangerous,” Schwarber said. “I mean, when you look at Soto, I mean obviously, I think ... he’s the best hitter in the game. I really do. Even at his age, I think he’s one of the best hitters in the game. I mean, he’s showing it on a consistent basis right now what he can do, and I’m excited to get around him and talk hitting with him. You know what? Shoot, I might learn something. I’m excited to learn something from this guy.”
Schwarber also has experience playing on the USA National team with Turner. The Nats shortstop reacted joyously on Twitter to the signing of Schwarber, who remembered match-ups with Bell and the Pirates in the same division.
“I played with Trea on the college national team,” Schwarber said. “Really toolsy, fast guy. The guy’s a threat to steal a base any time. The way that he’s been driving the ball and getting on base, I mean, you can’t say enough about what he does and how he plays defense. Great defensive player.
“Josh, playing against Josh for the past five, six years in the NL Central, he’s a threat. He takes professional at-bats. He’ll work an at-bat. He’ll jump on one and he’ll make you pay for it. I’m excited just to fit in this lineup, wherever it may be.”
Schwarber even talked about how he respected facing Nats ace Max Scherzer and how they battled each and every at-bat. The newcomer is glad they are on the same side now.
“I love watching Scherzer go out there every day,” Schwarber said. “I loved facing that guy, ‘cause when he was fired up, I’m getting fired up in the box with him. I’m ready to compete with this guy. I think the fit’s going to be great. Hopefully, once I walk in, it’s going to be an easy transition with these guys. I think rolling into day one of spring training, I’m going to try to get to know everyone and be as open as I can. Hopefully, just try to rub off on some of these young guys and just go from there.”
Schwarber also had an anecdote regarding manager Davey Martinez while they were together with the Cubs. Martinez was the bench coach in Chicago from 2015-2017. Schwarber was drafted in 2014.
“I actually talked to Davey before we agreed (to the deal),” Schwarber said. “I just wanted to sit down with him and see what he envisioned. Everything was great. Me personally knowing Davey, I know the kind of guy he is and I was really excited about being able to sit and talk with him about coming over to play for him because I remember back in the day when we screwed around, he goes, ‘Whenever I get a manager’s job, you are going to come over and you are going to play for me.’ And now it’s come to fruition. It’s really cool now. I’m just excited to be a Washington National with everyone, ready to go.”
Schwarber spent the first six seasons of his career with the Cubs, being a part of their 2016 World Series title run. Now he comes to the Nats, a team that enjoyed its own run to a championship in 2019.
“I’ve got no hard feelings, but I’m excited to move on to Washington here and make new chapters here,” Schwarber said. “I know it’s a one-year deal, but I told (general manager Mike Rizzo) when we talked on the phone: ‘I’m not approaching this as a one-year deal. I’m going to give you everything I have and I’m going to play as if I’ve been here five years and still got a couple more years left. I’m going to give you everything I’ve got and I’m going to invest myself into winning.’ And that’s what I want to do here.
“I want to come out there and I want to be the best version of me. Definitely, there’s a chip on my shoulder just from the previous situation. It’s not ever ideal from being non-tendered to things like that. But I want to come out, I want to be myself, I want to have that chip on my shoulder, know that I’m a way better baseball player than what I showed in 2020 and go from there.”