Slumping at the plate, Schwarber is still performing in the field

Kyle Schwarber has not lived up to the standard expected of him through his first two weeks on the Nationals’ active roster, and he’d be the first to admit that.

The 28-year-old outfielder is batting an ice-cold .192 (10-for-52) with one homer, three RBIs, 18 strikeouts and only two walks in 13 games since coming off the COVID-19 injured list. There have been some hard-hit balls recently, including a 409-foot shot to the base of the wall in center field Sunday in New York that was snagged by a leaping Albert Almora Jr., but a few loud outs don’t make up for the overall lack of production.

Here’s something, though, Schwarber is doing well so far: playing defense.

Seriously, the husky former catcher with a reputation as a substandard outfielder has legitimately played well in the field so far.

Schwarber-LF-Catch-Blue-Sidebar.jpgThrough the end of the weekend, Schwarber was credited with 1 Defensive Run Saved, which was tied for third among the 20 major league left fielders who have played at least 100 innings in the field so far this season. Per Statcast data, he has successfully caught 75 percent of balls hit to left field, which is only 3 percentage points below the expected catch rate for those balls.

No, he’s not in the early running for the Gold Glove Award, but Schwarber has been better than advertised. Well, better than most advertised. His manager (and former outfield coach of his with the Cubs) has been touting his defensive abilities since the day the Nationals signed him.

“I taught Schwarber how to play the outfield,” Davey Martinez said Sunday in his postgame Zoom session with reporters. “He understands that hey, there’s a difference. When you’re hitting, you focus on your hitting and what you need to do at the plate. But when you go in the outfield, you focus on catching the baseball.

“The biggest thing with him is just catching the ball. Just catch the ball. Don’t try to overthink it. Just catch the balls. And he gets good jumps. As you can see, his arm plays out in the outfield. He works on it. He’s always worked on it, and he wants to be really good out there. He doesn’t want to be a liability out in left field.”

Schwarber certainly wasn’t a liability on Sunday. He came charging in to make a sliding, backhanded catch of Jonathan Villar’s fourth-inning sinking looper. What looked at first like a play for Trea Turner instead became Schwarber’s when the shortstop peeled off and deferred to his outfielder.

“It was actually a really good play by him, just to let me be able to run and go get it,” Schwarber said. “Just for the peace of mind that if you do dive, you’re not going to have a collision. His thought process there - which was a great thought process - was he ran back and he thought he had a chance to catch the ball. If he did, (the runner on third base) still could’ve tagged up, and he might not have had him at home. So I thought it was a really good play by him, just to be able to have peace of mind there knowing that there’s not going to be a collision.”

One inning later, Schwarber caught a routine fly ball in left and then fired a perfect, one-hop throw to the plate to nab Francisco Lindor, who was initially called safe but ultimately ruled out on replay.

Sure, a two-run double off Schwarber’s bat at some point would’ve been nice. But if he’s not producing at the plate, the Nationals at least can appreciate what he’s doing for them in the field.

“I’m going to try and help the team win each and every day,” Schwarber said. “If it’s not on the offensive side of the baseball, I’m going to try to do something on the defensive side of the baseball. I was able to keep a run from scoring there, and that’s a good thing.”

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