Schumaker brings versatile, veteran presence
Do-it-all player expected to provide solid left-handed bat in reserve role
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Skip Schumaker once played regularly at second base for the Cardinals but has since made the transition into a veteran role player. It's a gig that can be as equally thankless as it is valuable -- especially if he happens to be the one summoned in the ninth inning to pinch-hit against a closer throwing 98 mph.
Being a do-it-all utility player for the Reds is something Schumaker isn't taking lightly.
"There's no tougher role for position players than a bench role," Schumaker said. "When you play every day, you know you're getting four at-bats tomorrow. If you had a bad day, you know you're getting four at-bats the next day. If you're a bench guy and get four at-bats and might not play for a while, those four at-bats are really meaningful. You have to be pretty strong-minded as a bench player."
Schumaker can serve the Reds as a backup second baseman and play all three spots in the outfield. He even made two relief appearances as a pitcher for the Dodgers last season.
Manager Bryan Price senses that Schumaker can bring even more to the table, providing some intangibles.
"Really good energy and a good situational player," Price said of Schumaker. "He understands the game and understands how he affects it in a positive way. We love those underappreciated guys that are just really good baseball players. He gets on base. He has a good feel for the strike zone. He works extremely hard on his defense and his baserunning.
"He's a very gritty-type player that brings a certain attitude. There is no laissez-faire with him. He understands that one of his tools is his character as a baseball player."
Signed a two-year, $5 million contract with the Reds in November that came with a $2.5 million club option for 2016, Schumaker has mostly worked with the outfielders in the early days of Spring Training. He could be added protection in center field behind rookie Billy Hamilton, especially against right-handed pitching. He also has 456 games of experience playing at second base, where he played during the 2011 World Series championship season in St. Louis.
Schumaker isn't expecting to see much time at second base for the Reds, however.
"In my opinion, Brandon Phillips is the best second baseman in the big leagues," Schumaker said. "This guy can really play. He's a pain to play against. You never want to see him up. Every ball hit to the right side is going to be caught. You plan on him playing 150 games. I know my role. That's to be ready when the time is needed. … When guys get into trouble is when they don't know their role. They think they're someone they're not. I get it and I'm excited for it."
A left-handed hitter, Schumaker batted .263 with a .332 on-base percentage in 125 games last season for the Dodgers, and hit both of his home runs for the year only five days apart in July. During his career, he is a .285 hitter with a .344 on-base percentage -- including a .300 average vs. right-handers.
Schumaker is now assimilating into a new clubhouse for the second year in a row. While he knew no one heading into his lone season at Los Angeles, he was enticed to Cincinnati by his former Cardinals general manager, Reds GM Walt Jocketty. Left fielder Ryan Ludwick is also a former Cardinals teammate who knows what the 5-foot-10 Schumaker brings.
"He's a guy that comes prepared every day," Ludwick said. "He's worked his way to the big leagues and a guy that doesn't take anything for granted. The reason he's been here as long as he has is because he works at it. He's here early doing defensive work. He's there after we're done practicing, in the cage hitting."
There is also a familiarity for Schumaker in joining players he once played against several times each year while with the Reds' chief rival in the National League Central.
"Here, it's a family atmosphere. It's easy to fit in. If you don't fit in here, you've got a problem. It's been a nice transition," Schumaker said. "I think that building relationships is the key to building trust during the season. The last thing you want to do as a new player in the clubhouse of a team that has won 90 games a few years in a row and has established guys, is be the loud guy and open your mouth and try to take control of something that's not yours."
The rivalry the Reds have had with the Cardinals the last few years has caused a variety of emotions -- from excitement, euphoria and satisfaction to angst, dejection and resentment. Schumaker experienced it from the other side in St. Louis.
"Because of the past history of benches clearing and all that stuff, to be in the same clubhouse is strange, initially," Schumaker said. "It was a long time ago. I feel like we're all on the same page now. Being on the other side, I'm not going to lie, was a little bit different."
At the end of the day, to Schumaker, there was still a healthy respect for the competition between the two teams on the field.
"It felt like a playoff atmosphere every time. You knew the Reds would be at the top of division," Schumaker said. "It was always going to be a tough series. With the pitching staff they had, you knew it was not going to be an easy weekend. Hopefully that continues. The Reds aren't an easy team to play the last few years."
Schumaker wants to do his part to keep the Reds a tough foe for any opponent, including the Cardinals. He was enticed, he said, by a couple of contending teams but felt the fit in Cincinnati was the best one -- professionally and personally.
"I know what they're all about," Schumaker said. "I know all about the Midwest lifestyle and morals and values for my family and winning was a huge factor for me. I'm 34 and later in my career. I'm not looking to rebuild. I get what the role is and I want to win. I'm used to winning."