Detroit Tigers' Jonathan Schoop proves he can be a 'difference maker' at first base

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Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read
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Detroit Tigers infielder Jonathan Schoop made his MLB debut as a first baseman Saturday against the Cleveland Indians. Without knowing that, it would have been impossible to tell.

Primarily a second baseman, the 29-year-old looked natural at a brand-new position in a 5-2 win. The victory marked the first time the Tigers have started a season 2-0 since 2016, and the first series win over Cleveland at Comerica Park since May 14-16, 2018.

For those accomplishments, the Tigers can thank a strong supporting cast: Jeimer Candelario and Nomar Mazara each picked up three hits; Robbie Grossman has six walks in nine plate appearances as the leadoff hitter; right-hander Julio Teheran gave up one run across five innings; and the bullpen was dominant.

But don't forget about Schoop's defense.

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"Having middle infielders able to play on the corners is very advantageous," manager AJ Hinch said Saturday. "I've seen it before in my career. Very athletic at first base when you have a middle infielder who can do that. Our personnel is creating some options for me as a manager."

Schoop, who had never played first base in 847 major-league games across nine years, saved Teheran a couple times.

In the third inning, Schoop started a 3-6-3 double play with shortstop Willi Castro. Teheran put runners on first and second with no outs, courtesy of back-to-back singles. Yet Schoop's defensive instincts delivered two outs. Two batters later, Teheran got out of the inning without allowing any runs.

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Detroit Tigers first baseman Jonathan Schoop hits a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park, Saturday, April 3, 2021.
Detroit Tigers first baseman Jonathan Schoop hits a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park, Saturday, April 3, 2021.

"I didn't know he was playing first until he made that play," Teheran said Saturday. "Miggy is the guy who always plays first, but it's good to have him there making plays. We all know he can play the infield, so he did pretty good."

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In the fourth, Teheran gave up a leadoff walk. But Schoop helped save the inning. He finished a 6-4-3 double play involving Castro and second baseman Niko Goodrum. Once again, two batters later, Teheran snuck out of the inning without allowing any runs. Protecting a lead in the seventh, Schoop caught a foul ball with his arm extended into Cleveland's dugout for an out.

He never felt overwhelmed.

"The view is different, but it's the same ground ball," Schoop said Saturday. "It's a little bit different, but I'm ready for it. ... Trying to go out there and do my best. Whatever my team needs me to do to win, I'm here for it."

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His potential for versatility — which is now a reality — is part of the reason why the Tigers re-signed him this winter to a one-year, $4.5 million contract. Last year, as a full-time second baseman, Schoop hit .278 with eight homers, 23 RBIs, eight walks and 39 strikeouts in 44 games.

Whenever 22-year-old Isaac Paredes gets called up from Triple-A Toledo, Hinch will need to boost Schoop's versatility to create playing time for everyone around the infield. Paredes is primarily a third baseman, but he successfully developed second base as a backup position in spring training.

Paredes' development hinges on the adaptability of Paredes and Candelario, as well as Goodrum and Harold Castro. Also, Miguel Cabrera needs to continue bouncing between first base and designated hitter.

So, Hinch is thankful for Schoop's work ethic.

"He was out there quite a bit with Chip (Hale) and Santi (Ramon Santiago) getting a lot of work, not knowing how much time he was going to get (at first base)," Hinch said. "And here it is, Game 2, and he's already a difference maker at that position."

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Following Saturday's performance, Schoop has officially played games at second base (806), shortstop (22), third base (17) and first base (1). He hasn't taken the field third base since 2014, but Hinch is going to give him the opportunity to do so at some point this year.

Still, Schoop is going to be a primary second baseman. And he's going to be in the lineup every day.

Schoop is 1-for-6 (.167) with one walk and two strikeouts through two games. He believes that he is "close" to joining a few of his slugging teammates with a strong offensive performance soon.

"We go out there, we play hard, we have fun," Schoop said. "We've got a lot more work to go, and we're going to surprise the world."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' Jonathan Schoop can be 'difference maker' at 1st base