Rick Schu was in the midst of a Gulf Coast League doubleheader Monday afternoon when he got a call from Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who wanted to promote him from the team’s minor league hitting coordinator to the position of major league hitting coach.
“I was happy to do it,” Schu said Tuesday as he got acquainted to his new surroundings. “You never know in this business. I’ve been in it for 32 years. I’ve been in it as a player and as a coach. I’ve been a hitting coach in the major leagues and I know the pressures up here.
“I know (former hitting coach Rick Eckstein) real well and he’s such a workaholic. He’s a great hitting coach. I know he worked hard… I’m going to do whatever the organization asks me to do, whether it be hang out in the Gulf Coast League, Triple-A or come to the big leagues. Wherever Rizzo needs me.”
Schu spent some time early Tuesday afternoon talking with manager Davey Johnson, for whom Eckstein’s firing was a difficult decision to digest, and catching up with the major league hitters after spending much of his time this season with the Nationals’ various minor league affiliates.
He felt his familiarity with the players would help ease his transition into the new role and stressed his strong relationships with several players already — whether through working with them as the hitting coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, in the minors with the Nationals , the Arizona Fall League, or on minor league rehab assignments.
His philosophy, he said, is to keep things simple, be aggressive and “hunt heaters.” He also wants the Nationals’ players to focus more on doing little things — like moving runners — than their offense, which is among the worst in the league, has to date.
“I’ve got a relationship with all these guys,” he said. “The trust’s there, which is huge as a hitting guy to be able to communicate with a hitter and understand that you know what they go through. I was a prospect coming up with the Philadelphia Phillies. I’ve been a bench guy… I’ve kind of done every role that you can imagine. I was a superstar in Japan, hit a bunch of home runs. So I kind of understand what all the players go through so I think I can relate to them.
“As far as philosophy, I want to be aggressive, I want to hunt fastballs, keep it simple, stay aggressive. I’d like to see us put the ball in play a little bit more.”
There was a printed sign with the Nationals’ batting practice groups posted on it Tuesday afternoon. The same sign hung on the batting cage. He asked questions about logistics, like what time the Nationals’ players like to do their early hitting.
With 63 games remaining, his time to get situated is short, but Schu did his best to start the process on Tuesday.
“It’s just a matter of getting on a roll, catching some breaks and relax a little bit and try not to get five hits in four at-bats and take one AB at a time, slow things down,” Schu said. “It’s easy to say, hard to do. This club’s way too talented not to get on a roll. I think they’re real capable of rolling off some wins. These guys care so much they put so much pressure on themselves, which is counter productive… let the game come to them. I tell my young guys in the minor leagues all the time, ‘Slow the game down.’”
A day later, Johnson made it clear the decision to fire Eckstein was still weighing on him — but he also had what he characterized as a “good” conversation with Schu and was looking forward to working with him.
Asked if Eckstein’s firing had frayed his relationship with Rizzo at all, Johnson was honest.
“He’s my boss,” he said. “I got the military mentality. He hands down the orders and I carry them out. I still have a great deal of respect for him. I think he’s one of the better GMs in all of baseball. We don’t have to always agree on everything.”