'Never let it break you': Tigers' Jonathan Schoop staying upbeat through early slump
Detroit — A player’s track record matters. It’s relevant. So when manager AJ Hinch says he trusts the back of Jonathan Schoop’s baseball card and expects him to fight his way out this early-season slump, you can take comfort in that.
This is Schoop’s ninth big league season. When he’s healthy, he generally will hit between .260 and .300, slug between .450 and .500 and post an OPS-plus of 100 or better. Take for example his combined production from 2019 and 2020: 165 games, .262 average, .474 slugging, 106 OPS-plus, 31 homers, 82 RBIs.
That’s more representative of who he is as a hitter. Not the .163 average he’s posted through 14 games this year, with just eight singles, no extra-base hits, two RBIs and 18 strikeouts.
“I’ve been through this already,” Schoop said before Game 1 against the Pirates on Wednesday. “It’s not my first time. I know what I’ve got to do. The first time I went though (a slump), it was hard. But I’ve learned from the past. You just go out and try to help the team win, whatever you can do. Just go out and compete.”
He responded. First with an RBI single in the first game and then, finally breaking the extra-base hit drought, a 403-foot home run in Game 2.
"There was a three and a half-, four-week build up of frustration that was taken out on that ball the went out in left field," manager AJ Hinch said of the home run."
Back in 2018, after Schoop was traded from the Orioles to the Brewers, he fell into one of the worst slumps of his career. He went 5-for-32 with 11 strikeouts over the last 13 games and then went hitless in eight postseason at-bats.
He responded with 23 home runs and 103 OPS-plus for the Twins in 2019.
“You learn from it,” he said. “Every struggle, you can get something good out of it. It can make you better for the long term. Baseball is a tough game. You fail 70% of the time and you are one of the best in the game.
“You’ve got to find a way to not let it bother you. The struggle is always going to be there. You just work hard and try to minimize the struggle. Never let it break you. If you let it break you, then it’s going to last a lot longer.”
What’s different about this particular slump, it isn’t just that balls aren’t falling in — Schoop hasn't been making much hard contact. Entering play Wednesday, he’d seen 237 pitches and not produced a single barrel. (Statcast identifies a barreled ball as one that leaves a bat with an exit velocity of 95 mph or better.)
The issue, Schoop said, is timing. He arrived three weeks late to spring training and has yet to get his timing at the plate. He’s been late on fastballs and out in front of breaking balls and off-speed pitches.
“I’ve been a little bit long to the ball,” Schoop said. “I’ve been working with Scott (Coolbaugh, hitting coach) every day, working every day to get better. I know what I’m doing (wrong) and I know what I’ve got to do to be where I want to be.
“It’s just about being on time, recognizing the ball and putting a good swing on it.”
Adding to Schoop’s frustration is that his struggles mirror the team’s offensive doldrums. They went into play Wednesday last in the American League in runs scored. And Schoop’s two RBIs hitting typically in the lower middle of the order is a big symptom of the club’s overall malaise.
“Nobody wants to fail,” he said. “It’s tough sometimes because you want to help your team win. We have to put up more good at-bats. If we can do that more good things will happen. It’s a long season. Sometimes people panic. But if you panic, you will struggle longer. All you can do is work hard and compete.”
Trust the back of his baseball card. Schoop won’t panic.
“It’s 14 games,” he said. “I think I’ve made all my outs now and good things are going to happen.”
Hinch warned that outfielder Nomar Mazara’s left abdominal strain would likely sideline him longer than the minimum 10-day stint on the injured list.
“You won’t see him on this homestand and not likely in the first couple of cities on the next road trip,” Hinch said.
Mazara, who injured himself swinging in Houston on April 14, is doing his conditioning and rehab work in Lakeland. Hinch said he’s not yet been cleared to swing a bat.
Around the horn
Between Game 1 and Game 2 on Wednesday, the Tigers announced they had optioned right-handed reliever Joe Jimenez back to Triple-A Toledo to clear space on the active roster for Game 2 starter Spencer Turnbull.
… The Tigers selected outfielder Derek Hill from the alternate site to serve as the 27th man for the second game.
Pirates at Tigers
►First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Thursday, Comerica Park, Detroit
►TV/radio: BSD, MLBN/97.1
►RHP JT Brubaker (2-0, 1.76), Pirates: He’s been racking up high chase and swing-and-miss rates with both his slider (30% whiff) and four-seam fastball (45% whiff). He uses his four-seam (93 mph) typically up in the zone and his slider and sinker down and moving away from hitters. This has been the type of pitcher that has dominated Tigers hitters in recent years.
►RHP Jose Urena (0-3, 5.52), Tigers: He’s coming off his best start as a Tiger, setting a career high with eight strikeouts in seven innings at Oakland last Friday. His sinker was dancing, and in the zone. He threw 52 of them with a speed variance of 92-96 mph and got six swings and misses and eight called strikes.