Jonathan Schoop went into Wednesday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays hoping that this would be the day he breaks out of his early-season slump at the plate. Schoop made no excuses for his struggles just 12 games into the season, but had faith that his next game could be the one when he breaks out.
"I'm just not doing damage right now," Schoop said before Wednesday's game. "I've got to keep working and go out there and hopefully I can catch fire. … Hopefully it starts today."
His batting average had just dipped below .200 and he was hitless with runners in scoring position. He wasn't squaring balls up the way he did throughout his breakout season a year ago. But in Wednesday's game at Camden Yards, Schoop took a step forward by beginning to capitalize with runners on base.
Schoop — who entered the night 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts with runners in scoring position — drove in the Orioles' first run in the fourth inning. With Manny Machado on second following a leadoff double, Schoop roped a full-count changeup from starter Marco Estrada down the left-field line for an RBI double.
With the bases loaded in the fifth inning, Schoop looped a 1-0 fastball from Estrada into center field, dropping just in front of center fielder Kevin Pillar to plate another run. That hit gave Schoop his first multi-RBI game of the season. He entered the night with just one RBI.
Who knows whether it was the early work Schoop did with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh that made the difference, but Schoop definitely made a positive turn after a frustrating game at the plate the previous night.
"Jon, you know, like I said, you love to see good things happen to people who work hard at it," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's just a reminder, this guy, the number of runs he scored last year, the number of runs he drove in, what he hit, what he did for us. And Jon, he wants to do it every night. He worked hard. He works hard and he never assumes everything. It's like he's playing to establish himself every night, so I'm glad to see him get something back for it."
Schoop was one of the Orioles' top hitters with runners in scoring position last season, posting a .338 average and .910 on-base-plus-slugging percentage while driving in 66 of his 105 RBIs in those situations. But going into Wednesday, his early struggles at the plate had been compounded by some hapless at-bats with runners in scoring position.
In their 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday night, the Orioles had an opportunity to break a tied game open in the eighth inning against right-hander Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez, who had held the Orioles hitless and scoreless for the first seven innings, allowed three consecutive hits to open the inning that tied the game at 1 and put runners at second and third.
After Trey Mancini smoked a line drive to center field for the first out and Manny Machado was intentionally walked with first base open, Schoop stepped to the plate with the bases loaded, but rolled over on a 1-0 two-seam fastball and hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Schoop stranded four baserunners in his 0-for-3 night Tuesday, his season batting average falling to .189. But take away his three-game series in Houston, when he was 7-for-13 against the Astros, and Schoop was just 3-for-40 in his other nine games. In his first five at Camden Yards this year, Schoop was 1-for-20 with seven strikeouts.
During spring training, Schoop talked about his constant desire to keep getting better, that he wasn't going to rest on last season's accolades, realizing that a new season would mean more adjustments at the plate.
Schoop rode a fast start last year to a breakout season that included his first All-Star Game berth and the Most Valuable Oriole award. He spent most of the season as one of the top run producers in the league and throughout most of the first half, he and Mancini held the offense together as the club's most consistent contributors. He entered the season coming off a strong spring training in which he hit seven homers.
It is a short sample size this season, but Schoop entered Wednesday seeing slightly more pitches per plate appearance this year (3.86) than he did last season (3.77). And while the Orioles have seen a lower percentage of fastballs than any team in baseball (47.7 percent), Schoop has seen the highest percentage of any Orioles starter (53.2 percent).
"I'm getting pitches to hit, so it's no excuse," Schoop said before Wednesday's game. "I've got Jonesy [Adam Jones] behind me. I've got other guys, Manny [Machado] before me. … I've got to go out there and keep working. That's all I can do, work and go out there and try to compete. I don't have any excuse, because if I see all the at-bats I'm getting now I can go see all of them. And I'm getting pitches that I can hit hard, but I'm just not doing it right now. I've got to keep working until I find it. I hope today is the day I find it."
Outside of that Houston series, most of the Orioles' early games have been played in cold weather, which can be a challenge for hitters, but Schoop wouldn't use that as an excuse Tuesday.
"I've got no excuse," Schoop said after Tuesday's game. "It's a baseball game. You've got to find a way to score, you've got to find a way to be warm, you've got to find a way to do your job, you know? It's no excuse. Things aren't going our way right now. We've just got to keep grinding, keep working and it's going to get better."