On Tuesday, the Nationals’ new hitting coach is expected to join the team and greet some familiar faces. Rick Schu, a nine-year major league player and former major league hitting coach, was promoted Monday to replace fired hitting coach Rick Eckstein as part of an effort to jump-start a stagnant offense.
Schu, 51, has served as the Nationals minor league hitting coordinator for the past four seasons, roving around the system and working with players. Those that have worked with him spoke highly of his jovial personality and no-frills coaching approach.
Schu, who began his coaching career with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998, was part of a mid-season coaching change himself in the past. He was brought in July 2007 to serve as the Diamondbacks hitting coach. Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo was Arizona’s director of scouting at the time. Schu served as the team’s hitting coach for two years before being fired in May 2009. He also had served as the team’s hitting coach in 2004. In 2009, the Nationals lured Schu to the organization. The Boston Red Sox interviewed Schu this offseason for their vacant hitting coach position.
Schu spent the better part of nine seasons in the major leagues, five years with the Philadelphia Phillies and two with the Baltimore Orioles. He grew up near Sacramento, Calif., not far from where friend, Nationals broadcaster and former major leaguer F.P. Santangelo was raised.
Schu signed with the Phillies out of high school and reached the majors at 22 in 1984. He was once briefly considered the future replacement for Mike Schmidt at third base, forcing Schmidt to first base before he switched back. Schu, who also played in Japan and played in only one game for the Montreal Expos, is a career .246 hitter with 41 home runs.
Schu is familiar with several current Nationals players. He worked with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina in the minors. He also worked with Chad Tracy and Scott Hairston when they overlapped in Arizona. One of his biggest proponents is Harper. The two first met in 2010 at the Florida Instructional League when Harper was 17 and recently drafted. They then worked together when Harper was in the Arizona Fall League that year.
“Schu is unbelievable,” Harper said. “I love the guy. Been around baseball for a long time. Been a hitting coach for a long time. I’m excited to have him.”
Those that have worked with Schu in the past describe his teaching style as less about mechanics and more about approach. “He’s very simple,” Harper said. “Stay within yourself, stay with what you know. It’s more of a simplifying everything.”
Added Hairston: “He tries to learn the best he can and what that certain player can do and their strengths and just goes off that, which is good. I think he was very encouraging, from what I remember, and that confidence in our abilities and always reminded us to have confidence in our abilities. That’s what I remember. … He did a good job communicating with the players. It was a right type of balance between information, encouragement and the work. I think it flowed really good.”
Manager Davey Johnson, who was close with Eckstein, said Eckstein worked and talked with all of the organization’s hitting instructors, including Schu, to make sure there was continuity throughout all levels about hitting philosophy.
“I thought he was the perfect guy at the perfect time,” Rizzo said. “I worked with him before. I was comfortable with him. He knows all the players. He’s been a good hitting coach in the major leagues. He knows all the young hitters and knows a lot of the veteran guys.”