The Baltimore Orioles beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-4, on Friday, April 14. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)
TORONTO — Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop knows he has developed the reputation of being a streaky hitter, and his opening-week struggles put that on display. But one of Schoop's biggest goals for the season is being more consistent.
Schoop opened the season with a 2-for-19 slump in his first six games, a string of at-bats that included just two balls hit out of the infield. The results weren't there early, but Schoop was confident he'd start squaring balls up, which he has started to do this week.
Schoop posted his third straight multihit game Friday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, homering for the second time in three games while his three hardest-hit balls of the season have come in that span.
"I felt like I was getting good swings, that I was seeing the ball good," Schoop said. "I wasn't chasing too much and it will come. I keep believing. Even if I'm 0-for-30, I'm going to go in there believing I have a chance. Work hard in the cage and do whatever I have to do to be prepared."
Anytime Schoop is able to square a pitch up, he has the ability to send it over the fence, but he has also been too aggressive at times, getting himself out by chasing breaking balls out of the zone.
Now, Schoop is beginning to trend upward, posting back-to-back multihit games in wins over the Boston Red Sox and Blue Jays heading into Friday's game in Toronto.
It's just two games, and it's important for Schoop to build on it. Last season, he went through a 2-for-30 slump in April that lowered his batting average from .314 to .200, and he's focused on limiting those dips this season.
"That's the step I have to make, because everybody goes through a slump, but [it's] making sure you have consistency and take your game to the next step," Schoop said. "Take the walks when they're there. When I know they're not trying to pitch to me, don't chase stuff and get myself out. I'm looking forward to making those adjustments this year."
Schoop hit his second home run of the season in the fifth inning Friday, an estimated 419-foot solo blast off Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez that ignited an Orioles comeback. He squared the ball up, hitting a 1-2 fastball over the center-field fence at an exit velocity of 104 mph. He added a single in the sixth.
On Wednesday, Schoop started to break out of his slump when he jumped on a first-pitch floating knuckleball from Red Sox right-hander Steven Wright, sending it into the second row of Green Monster seats as part of the Orioles' six-run first inning at Fenway Park. He added an RBI single later in the game.
Schoop carried that into Thursday's game, when he hit two doubles, including an RBI two-bagger to center field against left-hander Francisco Liriano. That knock came off the bat with a 104 mph exit velocity and skipped all the way to the fence.
"I feel like my swing was there, but I was just missing my pitch before," Schoop said before Friday's game in Toronto. "It's baseball. I didn't think I was struggling because I was swinging at strikes, but I wasn't squaring the ball like the way I wanted it. Finally in Boston and [Thursday], I was able to square some up. I was able to square a couple up. It's good and I'm looking forward to staying that way."
That's why Schoop shrugged off his early-season struggles. He felt he was being more selective at the plate — he struck out just twice over his first six games — and continuing that will be key. Last year, he drew the second-fewest walks (21) among players with at least 600 plate appearances, with Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor being the only player to draw fewer (19).
Schoop had an irregular spring training, one that included traveling across the world to play in the World Baseball Classic while representing the Netherlands, going to South Korea, then Japan before returning to play in the semifinal round in Los Angeles.
Still, Schoop is traditionally a slow starter. Schoop entered Friday a career .233/.271/.443 hitter in the season's first month and he hit just .218/.256/.423 in 23 April games last year in a season when he heated up in June. He hit .355/.402/.607 with 17 extra-base hits (12 doubles and five homers) in June 2016 on his way to the best year of his career.
He posted career highs in homers (25), RBIs (82), doubles (38) and wins above replacement (2.1) while playing in all 162 games.
"Jon's got a little track record now," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He brings defensive things that contribute on a night when he might not get two or three hits. I think we have a lot of confidence [in him] because we have some history with him in a short span.
"… Everybody is going to have their moments, but somebody will pay. I think he's going to be a pretty consistent guy. A lot of people would love to have a second baseman who drove in over 80 runs and plays defense the way he does. We constantly want these guys to be perfect every night and it's just not the case."
Showalter offers a reminder that last year was really Schoop's first full year as an everyday player. He played in 137 games in 2014, but was limited to 86 games in 2015 because of a knee injury.
"Last year, I kind of know myself a little more," Schoop said. "I still have a lot to learn — I still have a lot to learn about the game, plus myself. One thing I liked about last year was that I played every game. I was able to play every day and be in the lineup. I'm looking forward to that this year again, be ready and try to play as many games as I can."