How Detroit Tigers’ Jonathan Schoop escaped slump: ‘I’m going to hit like (Manny) Machado’

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers second baseman Jonathan Schoop stepped into an indoor batting cage at Target Field in Minneapolis on May 23 for another round of practice with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh.

Schoop, desperate to escape his slump, had a new idea.

“I’m going to hit like (Manny) Machado today,” Schoop told Coolbaugh.

Since then, Schoop is hitting .297 with seven extra-base hits, including two home runs, in nine games. In Tuesday’s nightcap of the doubleheader, Schoop drove in all four runs with a two-run homer and a two-run single in the 4-0 win. Through his first 39 games, the 10-year MLB veteran carried a .161 batting average with seven extra-base hits.

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The fix sounds simple: Schoop adjusted his pre-pitch hand setup, lowering the bottom part of his bat from eye-level to chin-level.

The 30-year-old believes this small adjustment has helped him stay calm in the batter’s box and get a better view at the incoming pitch, as well as speeding up his reaction time against inside pitches.

“I put my bat a little bit lower like he does, and I feel comfortable with it,” Schoop said. “I started rolling with it, and the hits started falling. You got to copy the things that people do good, right? It’s working, and hopefully, I can keep going.”

Schoop didn’t copy Machado’s entire swing, but he discovered a characteristic he liked and applied it to his mechanics. Both players, by the time they’re loading up to attack the baseball, look similar.

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“If you go back three weeks, I was hitting the ball hard, too, but the ball wasn’t falling,” Schoop said. “Now, it’s falling. Like I’ve said, it’s part of (the game). If I can keep it up like this, we’re going to win a lot of games.”

Schoop and Machado share a close friendship. They played together with the Baltimore Orioles from 2013-18.

Machado, in his fourth season for the San Diego Padres, paces the National League in 2022 with a .353 batting average entering Tuesday. The 29-year-old, five-time All-Star also boasts an NL-best .432 on-base percentage.

Schoop, meanwhile, is hitting .189 across 48 games, to go with a .234 on-base percentage, though he profiles as MLB’s best defensive second baseman and leads position players with 10 outs above average.

His fellow veterans — besides designated hitter Miguel Cabrera — haven’t picked up the slack on offense, with shortstop Javier Báez hitting .197, outfielder Robbie Grossman at .199 and third baseman Jeimer Candelario at .189.

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Despite the season-long struggles, Schoop has hit No. 2 in the Tigers’ batting order for the past week. Manager A.J. Hinch put Schoop in the two-hole for the first time May 23, the same day Schoop picked up Machado’s pre-pitch hand placement.

“I decided that just to try to encourage him and let him know that we still believe in him,” Hinch said. “When you look up at those numbers for a month or six weeks, it can get you psychologically. Jonathan is a good hitter. We want him to get at-bats. I always believe it before I see it, but I’ve also seen it before.”

For the track record, just check Schoop’s 2021 season.

He hit .198 with two homers in April, .275 with three homers May, .340 with 10 homers in June, .301 with two homers in July, .273 with one homer in August and .263 with four homers in September.

Those results earned Schoop a two-year contract extension in August that will pay him $7.5 million for both the 2022 and 2023 seasons. He finished 2021 with a .278 batting average and 22 homers.

“He can be a significant contributor,” Hinch said. “There’s going to be a month where Javy is going to carry us. These guys that are streaky, there are good streaks, too, and those are generally pretty substantial.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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