To try to shake second baseman Jonathan Schoop out of his slump, manager Buck Showalter said Saturday that he planned to give his struggling slugger an extended break to allow him an opportunity to “reset.”
Schoop sat out of the lineup Saturday, the product of not only going hitless in five of his past seven games, but as a potential remedy for his underwhelming first half of the season.
After a career-best 2017 season with a .293 batting average and 182 hits, as well as a stable spring hitting about .240, Schoop skidded in June, dipping below the Mendoza line heading into the last day of the month at .197.
In other words, a break has been on Showalter’s to-do list for some time.
“I’ve thought about it a lot,” he said. “He’s been struggling for quite a while with very few exceptions. Just hasn’t been able to put together that consistency like he did last year.”
Before Saturday’s game, Showalter said he was considering giving Schoop Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. series finale against the Angels off, allotting Schoop three days off, including Monday’s scheduled break before the Orioles open a two-game interleague series in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
“Before I commit to something like that, I want to hear what he’s got to say,” Showalter said.
Schoop said Saturday that an extended break, even a few extra days off than he’s thinking, goes against his nature.
“I sat on the bench my first year I got called up. I sat a lot on the bench. I don’t like to be on the bench; I like to be out there playing,” Schoop said. “If I’m not doing good, there's no day off.”
He believes there is a “50-50” chance he’ll be batting somewhere in the lineup Sunday. But if he isn’t, he’ll use the day, and the possible day off Monday, to reflect.
“What I can do is just take it, refresh my mind and come back and be the player that I was,” he said.
Showalter hopes that by sitting Schoop, he’ll have a moment away from the daily grind to work through his frustrations in the batter’s box — like, the manager said, Chris Davis.
In fact, it was the first baseman’s notable improvement after his own eight-day stint out of the spotlight — highlighted by a pair of home runs — that Showalter is hoping Schoop will model his break after. Schoop has other plans.
In Showalter’s eyes, Schoop’s efforts to climb back to his former self isn’t a question of ability. It’s also not the result of an injury, as the manager indicated that other than some neck stiffness on Friday, Schoop was healthy.
The problem is rooted in perspective. With suggestions for adjustments hitting Schoop on all sides, Showalter believes it’s been difficult for the 26-year-old to parse out the best route to take and stick with it.
“Jon’s a guy that’s going to listen. And if [he doesn’t] get on one swing or one at-bat a double to center field, [he goes] to something else,” Showalter said. “You gotta stay with the process … Stay with it when you don’t have results … How do you define a good result? Taking a walk? That’s hard to do when you’re trying to hit .290, .300 and you’re hitting .190.”
Schoop said he’s readjusting his outlook in the batter’s box, trying to prioritize good at-bats and seeing the ball over getting hits every time.
The power behind Schoop’s swing has remained almost exactly the same — his average exit velocity is at about 85 miles per hour, compared with 89 mph the year before. And with a glove in hand rather than a bat, Schoop has only five errors, on track for a better finish than the previous season.
“It’s challenging when you’re scuffling that bad and all of a sudden it’s summer. I’m not going to say [he’s defensively] suffered,” Showalter said. “Jon takes a lot of pride in his defense. Half step here, half step there, and things get magnified.”
But contact had dropped all across the zone. On fastballs, breaking balls and off-speed pitches, Schoop is batting .199, .200 and .182, respectively — about a 100 point drop on each from last year.
“Jon had those moments last year, but they were very short and he got back into it,” Showalter said. “When you get into a good spot, you’re wondering how you ever got out. And when you get out of it, you’re wondering how you’re ever going to get back in. That’s why it’s tough to be selective when you’re trying to get your hitting back.”
If things coincide with Showalter's initial blueprint, the Orioles will turn to Steve Wilkerson, who played second base Saturday and who Showalter said he wants to get a closer look at. Schoop, on the other hand, wants to work through his struggles in the starting lineup.
“If you know me, you know I like to play out every game and be out there to compete,” he said. “[Today’s day off] just want to refresh my mind, I’m fine with that, but I don’t like days off.”