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Nats' Schwarber in impressive company with slugging exploits

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Washington Nationals' Kyle Schwarber hits a solo home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Nationals Park, Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – As his home run-hitting binge became a national phenomenon, Kyle Schwarber tried to warn everyone how quickly it could end.

“It’s the reality of this game that, you know what, I’m probably not going to keep doing this the whole year," the Washington outfielder said. "It’s physically impossible to keep doing this.”

That was almost a week ago.

Schwarber's exploits have now progressed into truly rarified air. He entered Wednesday's matchup against Tampa Bay with 16 home runs in his last 18 games, a statistical run that only Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa had previously managed. Only Albert Belle had achieved Schwarber's total of 12 homers in a 10-game span. Only Frank Howard — a star slugger in Washington a half-century earlier — had hit 11 in nine.

“That’s a cool stat. I love when you guys come at me with some cool stats," Schwarber said this week after being told he now stood alongside Howard. “You’re doing some things with really unbelievable players. It’s just, keep riding the wave. That’s kind of the biggest thing — just ride the wave, and don’t get too up, don’t get too down.”

This slugging surge comes at a good time for Schwarber, who was non-tendered by the Chicago Cubs this past offseason and signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Nationals. His power is nothing new. He twice surpassed 30 homers with the Cubs, but his batting average dipped to .188 in the shortened 2020 season.

Even during this torrid stretch, he's had a few hitless games, but the home runs have come in bunches. He hit three on June 20 against the Mets, and he had four other games with two homers, most recently on Monday night.

All the while, he's tried not to let his mounting feats distract him.

“To be honest with you, I want to play stupid — that’s kind of the best way to describe it,” he said. "Just keep going up there ... don’t remember the one before, just live in the present.”

After going deep again Tuesday night against the Rays — on the first pitch he saw — Schwarber entered Wednesday tied for the National League lead with 25 home runs.

“He’s hot, and it looked like he probably just missed two or three other ones tonight," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Just a guy that is really locked in. You know how talented he is. He’s played a long time, and when he gets hot, he can do some damage.”

Nationals manager Dave Martinez compared it to Andre Dawson's MVP season with the Cubs in 1987, when Martinez was a young center fielder for Chicago.

“He hit 49 home runs that year, and I led off for most of the year," said Martinez, whose Washington team has climbed above .500 thanks in part to Schwarber. "Just to watch him, like every time I got on base, there was a good chance that he was going to hit the ball out of the ballpark. It was pretty awesome. It was the first time I’ve ever really seen something like that.

"I’m looking at Kyle now, and you do have that sense where you’re sitting up there, and you see him working counts, and I tell myself, ‘I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but there’s a good chance that he’s going to hit this ball hard, and maybe far.’”

Bonds had his run of 16 homers in 18 games in his record-setting 2001 season, when he finished with 73. Nobody is confusing Schwarber with Bonds — Schwarber has been intentionally walked just once this year, and it was back in April.

But right now, pitchers give him a good pitch to hit at their peril.

“I think the biggest thing is just not missing the pitch. Not fouling it off or taking it," Schwarber said. “That’s kind of the biggest thing, is that whenever I am swinging at the pitch I want to swing at, that it’s catching some barrel.”

It may sound simple, but it isn't.

“Some of the best players in this game make it look easy. You look at Mike Trout, you look at what Shohei Ohtani’s doing," Schwarber said. "This game’s not easy at all. I firmly believe that this is one of the hardest games in all of professional sports, and when you’re doing something like this, you kind of just sit back and laugh because you don’t want it to end.”

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

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