Former IU baseball slugger Kyle Schwarber on a torrid, record-breaking run with Nationals

Kyle Schwarber’s 12 career stolen bases don’t scream leadoff hitter.  Neither does his .232 career average at the plate.

But his month of June calls for as many at-bats as possible, and the decision to put Schwarber in the leadoff spot now looks like a stroke of genius.

The former IU slugger has been on a record-breaking run in June for the Nationals since he was moved to the top of the order recently.  On Thursday Schwarber became the first player in baseball history to homer 12 times in the leadoff spot across 13 games.

Schwarber hit a leadoff homer and followed it up with a three-run shot in his next at-bat the following inning, bringing his season total to 21. He became the seventh player in history to hit eight-plus home runs in a five-game span, joining legends of the game including Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Frank Howard and Ralph Kiner.

The Ohio native’s massive production at the plate coincides with Washington pulling together a five-game winning streak along with victories in 10 of their last 11 games.

While Schwarber doesn’t look the part of a classical leadoff hitter, Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez’s decision to put him there has been a game-changer.

“He sparks us when he gets up there that first inning and puts us on the board,” Martinez told reporters on Thursday. “He’s a winner, he loves to compete and you’re seeing it right now.”

For Schwarber, it’s been a bounce back from his offensive struggles last season, in which he batted just .188 with 11 homers in 191 at-bats with the Cubs. Schwarber’s resurgence marks a return to his 2019 form, when he belted 38 homers in 529 at-bats.

Now in his seventh year in the big leagues, Schwarber has been around long enough to know there will be ups and downs.

“When you’re doing something like this, you kind of just sit back and laugh because you don’t want it to end, so that’s why you just keep going and doing work,” Schwarber told reporters after Thursday’s performance (see below). “It’s the reality of this game that you know what, I’m probably not going to keep doing this the whole year. It’s physically impossible to keep doing this, but I just want to keep it going as much as I can and I just want to keep putting in good at-bats.”

In addition to the home runs, Schwarber is hitting .333 with 24 runs batted in over his last 15 games.

Selected in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft (fourth overall) by the Chicago Cubs, Schwarber is the highest draft pick in Indiana baseball history.  He was a two-time First Team All-American and Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American honoree.  In IU history, he ranks fifth in slugging percentage (.607), sixth in home runs (40), eighth in hits (238) and tied for eighth in triples (12) and runs (182) despite playing just three seasons.  For his career Schwarber batted .341 in 180 games played, and he helped lead IU to the 2013 College World Series.

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