WASHINGTON — If former Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop looks strange in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform, just imagine how strange he must have felt when he wore it for the first time.
Imagine the thoughts that had to be going through his head as he took the field at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 1, just a day after the team that signed him when he was 16 years old traded him to the Brewers.
“I was with that team since I was 16,” Schoop said. “It was a little bit different … a little bit heartbreaking.”
Imagine what it felt like to go 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in front of your new teammates and across the field from best friend Manny Machado, whose tortured contract situation prompted the Orioles to deal him away and decide not to create a similar situation with Schoop next season.
If you imagine all that and add the pressure of joining an unfamiliar team in an unfamiliar league in the middle of a pennant race, you should not be surprised that Schoop’s first few weeks did not go well.
He was American League Player of the Week for the week of July 23-29, at the end of a stretch of seven homers and 15 RBIs in nine games. Then he managed just three singles and 12 strikeouts in 26 at-bats in his first seven games with the Brewers.
“I was trying to do too much,’’ Schoop said Friday before the Brewers opened a three-game series against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. “Everybody knows what I can do. I was going out there trying to hit four home runs and impress everybody. I didn’t have to do that. I just wanted to do so good.”
It’s too soon to proclaim that it’s all good, but it’s certainly getting better. Schoop, 26, warmed up at the plate over his eight games entering Friday, batting .318 with three home runs. But he still went into the series hitting just .205 in August after hitting .360 with nine homers and 19 RBIs for the Orioles in July.
The lengthy slump took its toll on his psyche and also bit into his playing time. Schoop went from being the Most Valuable Oriole in 2017 and a no-doubt everyday player at second base to spending some time at shortstop in Milwaukee and — worse — quite a bit of time on the bench.
“Offensively, he just got off to a tough start,’’ Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It’s just kind of the nature of baseball. You go from swinging the bat unbelievably and what changes the next day when you face the next pitcher, it’s hard to explain sometimes. He’s hit a couple home runs for us here over the last 10 days. Power is a big part of his offensive game. Some home runs have started to come, so that’s good.”
Schoop seems to have his smile back, thanks to some wise counsel from veteran teammate Mike Moustakas, who was traded to the Brewers by the Kansas City Royals just four days before Schoop and — like Schoop — was sent packing by the only big league team he ever knew.
Moustakas simply reminded Schoop who he was and reassured him that everyone in his new clubhouse knew that, too.
“I went to Moose because he got traded, too,’’ Schoop said. “He said, ‘You know what, we came from the American League and we hit. Don’t go out there trying to show us. Just go out there and enjoy it and go out there and compete.’ He helped me a lot and I was able to settle down and play the game the way I like to play it — smile and have fun and enjoy the game.”
That’s what he did so well in Baltimore, and the fans embraced him because they could see the joy written all over him every time he took the field. Schoop said Friday he has gotten tons of messages from Orioles fans trying to cheer him up and telling him they’re rooting for him to get to the postseason this year.
The Brewers went into Friday holding the second National League wild-card spot. They were aggressive during the midseason trading period to improve their chances of going deep into the postseason, and stayed busy Friday, adding starter Gio González from the Nationals and reliever Xavier Cedeño from the Chicago White Sox.
“Obviously, Jon didn’t get off the way he wanted to, but he’s a great player and none of us have anything other than confidence in his game and what he’s able to do,’’ Moustakas said. “I think when we both got to the new team, you obviously want to impress people and do things instead of just going out and playing your game. I think he’s back to doing what he’s capable of doing. He’s an All-Star-caliber player and we’re definitely glad we’ve got him.”
First base coach Carlos Subero, who oversees the infielders, could see what was going on, but there wasn’t much anybody could do about it. Schoop simply had to get more comfortable and had to get over his organizational abandonment issues.
“When you’re 16 years old with the same team and you get up [to the big leagues], he’s very appreciative of that,’’ Subero said. “He always talks about Buck [Showalter] and he respects all that was done with him over there, and then it’s like, ‘OK, we’re the Orioles. We brought you up. We’re you’re mom and dad, but we don’t want you no more.’
“I think that’s where he is right now. He was shocked, in a way. Now he comes to another team. They were not contending. We’re contending. He knows he needs to perform. He didn’t start out well, then he makes an error in L.A. and he’s human.”
Schoop also got support from a familiar source. Machado was on the phone with him almost every day, lifting him up and giving him advice. Machado was also going through an adjustment period with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He got off to a decent start in late July, but didn’t have a home run or an RBI from July 31 to Aug. 13.
“We’re not just teammates. We’re not just friends. We’re brothers,’’ Schoop said of Machado. “We’re really close. Even the first week when I was not doing well, he was calling me trying to help. … He was more nervous than me. He was worried so much for me.”
When Schoop met with reporters Friday, he had just gotten off the phone with Machado and had just finished scolding his buddy for not asking him to be a partner in a Dodgers fantasy football pool.
“He got in a draft and he didn’t put me in, so I was mad,’’ Schoop said. “Me and him in Baltimore, we had a team, and with the Dodgers he got a team and he didn’t call me to see if I want to join. So I’m mad at him. … So I hope he loses.”