When Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez decided to move Kyle Schwarber into the lead-off spot three weeks ago, he hoped the move would help jump-start a struggling team a little more often.
He's done exactly that, and Schwarber had a month for the ages. He finished June with 16 home runs, including seven to lead off the game in the first inning, setting a major-league record. It's a virtual lock that Schwarber will be named the National League Player of the Month in June later today.
The 16th and final homer of the month came on Tuesday, when Schwarber hit the first PITCH of the game out of the park against Tampa Bay pitcher Rich Hill.
Now that's immediate impact.
“That’s kind of the biggest thing, keying in on your pitch and not trying to hit a home run,” Schwarber said of the first-pitch homer. “I’ve caught myself trying to do that where I’ve swung and missed at a first-pitch fastball that could’ve been a hit, and you find yourself trying to do too much with the pitch.”
It was also the first time during his hot streak that he had hit a first-pitch homer in any inning. Schwarber was 28-for-100 in the month of June, with 16 home runs and 30 RBIs. he walked 13 times, was hit once and struck out 33 times.
What was most amazing about Schwarber's 16 home runs in the month was that he didn't hit his first one until June 12. They all came in an 18-game stretch, which has only happened twice before in MLB history, once by Sammy Sosa (1998) and again by Barry Bonds (2001).
Both of those marks tend to carry imaginary asterisks, though, because they came in the height of the steroid era. Nothing's been done about Bonds and Sosa's records, but the stain still exists enough that they are blackballed every year during Hall of Fame voting. He's also hit 12 homers in a 10-game stretch this month, which ties a record held by Cleveland's Albert Belle in 1995.
The Nationals went 14-4 during Schwarber's explosion, and moved from last place to just two games out in the National League East behind the New York Mets. The Nationals are 40-39 now, over .500 again for the first time since Opening Day.
“If you’re a baseball fan and you’re watching the games and every night, you see Schwarber doing what he’s doing, you’ve really got to appreciate that,” Martinez said. “You’ve got to honestly say, ‘Hey, that’s amazing.’ I’ve been in this game a very long time, and I’ve never seen something like this.”
Schwarber has been playing his own version of home run derby this month, but he said he's not interested in reprising the role during the All-Star Game weekend. He's already done it once before – representing the Chicago Cubs in 2018 when he lost to Bryce Harper in the finals – and doesn't need to do it again.
“It was definitely a moment that you’re not going to forget and you kind of check that off your bucket list,” Schwarber said. “If I was approached, I probably wouldn't do it again, just in terms that you get a little sore afterward. It’s four minutes of just straight hacking as hard as you can.
"I just think that the best thing to do is probably let it pass and rest up and look forward to the second half.”
Schwarber signed a one-year, $10-million deal with the Nationals in the offseason after being let go by the Cubs. He played six seasons in Chicago after being the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. He was a college star at Indiana, where he led the Hoosiers to the 2013 College World Series.
- INJURY UPDATE (Friday, 9 p.m. ET): Kyle Schwarber had to leave Friday night's game in the second inning with an apparent hamstring injury, and he did not return. After getting a single, he pulled up lame as he rounded first base. He will have an MRI on Saturday.
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