CEDAR RAPIDS – He’ll bat sixth and play right field Monday afternoon for the Cincinnati Reds. His mom and dad, grandpa and grandma will be there to watch at Great American Ballpark.
This is Scott Schebler’s first opening-day start as a major league ballplayer, and the significance of that isn’t lost on him. It’s a big deal.
“There were a lot of firsts last year,” the Cedar Rapids Prairie grad said. “There will be more firsts this year. But after going through things last year, I feel like I’ve settled in. I feel a little more comfortable going into this one than last year.”
Schebler, 26, was acquired in a trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2015 season and made Cincinnati’s opening-day roster last spring. But what was supposed to be a time share in left field with Adam Duvall never materialized, with Duvall seizing the position and being named to the MLB All-Star Game.
Schebler was relegated to the bench and pinch-hitting duties, especially tough for a guy who had never been faced with that role. He predictably struggled.
“It was just something I’ve never done before,” he said. “I have always played every day, so I kind of had that routine down. I never had to have a routine for coming in and pinch hitting or double switches. It took me awhile to understand how it works, as far as routine wise. Then to try and do that for the first time at the big-league level, that was really difficult. I probably didn’t make it easier on myself mentally. I was pretty worn down by it, to be honest.”
He eventually was sent back to Triple-A Louisville, where he got to play every day and regain his hitting stroke. After Jay Bruce was traded by the Reds at the August deadline, Schebler came back to the big leagues, got his chance to play on a regular basis and killed it.
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He hit .257 with six home runs in 27 August games, then .337 in 26 September games. He had a good spring training, and here he is, starting Monday against the Philadelphia Phillies.
“I dug myself a pretty big hole at the beginning of last year,” Schebler said. “I think that’s honestly what I was most proud of. I easily could have just said ‘The season’s over, let’s just move on,’ but I kind of grinded my way through it, and it ended up being a positive year.
“The game is so much quicker, so for me, it was just about getting used to the speed of the game. Once I kind of settled in, I was able to just let myself play naturally, instead of just thinking about everything too much.”
Schebler definitely has used the road less traveled to get here. He played all the sports at Prairie, but chose to concentrate on baseball in college.
A shoulder injury incurred in football actually relegated him to designated hitter status his lone year at Des Moines Area Community College, but the Dodgers still drafted him in the 26th round in 2010 and signed him late to a well-above slot bonus after a strong season in the summer amateur Northwoods League.
He broke onto the prospect scene with a huge 2013 season at high-A Rancho Cucamonga and followed that up with an even bigger 2014 season at Double-A Chattanooga. Added to the 40-man roster, the Dodgers called him up in 2015, and he played 15 games.
“The biggest thing I was trying to work on in spring training this year was commanding the strike zone,” said Schebler, known as more of a free swinger. “That’s something that guys who have been in the league 10 years are still trying to (sharpen). I was looking back at some film, and was like ‘Man, the balls that were in the zone, I did really well on.’ Then I looked at the bad film and it was like ‘Well, most of those pitches weren’t strikes.’ It’s one of those things where if I command the strike zone, I just put myself in a better place.”
There’s no better place than the big leagues, as a starter.
“I’ve had people coming up to me saying it’s your job to lose and stuff like that, but I’ve only had kind of one gear in my whole career,” Schebler said. “I was drafted so late, I’ve always had to fight for everything I’ve gotten. I just don’t want to lose that mindset. That was kind of my goal. I came into spring training with that goal in mind, felt like I had a pretty good spring. That’s just the thing, though. I don’t want to lose that edge.”
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