When Jonathan Schoop stepped to the plate, the Detroit Tigers were expected to strand two runners in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s series finale against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
At that point, Schoop hadn’t driven in a run since last season.
Schoop, who struck out in his previous three trips to the plate, hit a fastball from right-handed reliever Nick Wittgren to the gap in left-center field for a double with two outs in the eighth inning. He collected his first two RBIs in his 79th plate appearance of the 2023 season.
“I’m trying to stay ready,” Schoop said. “Some things you can’t control. I can control going out there and doing the best I can do. I hope I can keep it up like this. I’m going to stay ready.”
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Before hitting Wittgren’s fastball, Schoop laid off two sliders out of the strike zone to work ahead 2-0 in the count. When he hit the fastball, Royals center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. — one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball — chased after the ball.
Bradley couldn’t get to the ball.
It rolled onto the warning track and to the wall.
“I was holding my breath,” Schoop said. “I was like, ‘Please, please, please.’ I hit it really good, but Jackie is a really good outfielder. Thankfully, it fell (in the outfield). We got two RBIs, and we won.”
He hadn’t driven in a run since Sept. 29, 2022.
“He’s been grinding trying to do something right and contribute,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s had a great attitude throughout this tough stretch of on again, off again playing and not contributing with the bat as much as he has in the past.”
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Schoop, an 11-year MLB veteran earning $7.5 million in the final year of his contract, is hitting .222 with four extra-base hits (all doubles), seven walks and 20 strikeouts in 30 games. His 63 wRC+ ranks 304th among 353 players with at least 70 plate appearances this season.
He has started 19 of his 30 games, primarily playing against left-handed pitchers, because of his struggles dating back to last season.
“When I get my chance to hit,” Schoop said, “I’ll be ready and try to do my best.”
Combining 2022 and 2023, Schoop owns a .204 batting average and a .563 on-base-plus-slugging percentage through 161 games. The 31-year-old used to consistently hit at least 20 home runs per season.
A lot has changed.
But the three strikeouts in Wednesday’s game, including two against right-hander Zack Greinke, didn’t deter Schoop from contributing in the eighth inning. The Tigers won, 6-4, in part because of the two runs he drove in.
“It’s not the first time I got three strikeouts in a game, and then in my next at-bat, I got a hit,” Schoop said. “You got to get in the moment. You can’t keep thinking about what you did in the first three at-bats. You have to find a way to let it go and contribute. I was like, ‘Relax and let it go.’ I got a good pitch.”
Late night last night
The Tigers started Wednesday’s game at 8:10 p.m. ET against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium, an uncharacteristic start time for a getaway game. Typically, the final game in a series is played in the afternoon.
Coming off a late-night flight, the Tigers canceled on-field batting practice before Thursday’s series opener against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park.
“I got to my house around 3:30, 3:45 (a.m.),” Hinch said. “I got up around 8 o’clock. I don’t need much sleep, but hopefully, the boys slept later than that. … It’s rare to have the night getaway game. We have it twice in the span of the next 10 days.”
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The Tigers also have a night game for the June 7 series finale against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Luckily, though, the Tigers have an off-day June 8 before a six-game homestand.
“Those aren’t fun, and you have to react accordingly,” Hinch said. “(Opposing teams) get to set their schedule, and we get to set ours in the future, too. … Be smart with your workload, but your readiness needs to be on the go from the first pitch tonight.”
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