CINCINNATI -- When the Reds dealt mainstay right fielder Jay Bruce to the Mets at the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the job to replace him went to Scott Schebler. In his first game back in the lineup following his recall from Triple-A Louisville on Aug. 2, Schebler collected three hits, including a three-run walk-off homer to defeat the Cardinals.
But from Aug. 5-14, Schebler fell into a 0-for-27 funk. Though rebuilding periods are painful to endure for clubs, they do serve a purpose that can yield a few positives. In this case, Cincinnati let Schebler struggle and work through it with regular at-bats. Had it been a pennant race, he would have been shown the bench.
"He had a real rough first 30-plus at-bats when he came back," Reds manager Bryan Price said shortly before the 2016 season ended. "He continued to work and stay optimistic and all of a sudden, we started to see a couple of balls hit harder, a couple of base hits and then balls through the middle, balls to left-center and hard ground balls through the left side, through the shift. It was certainly an improved confidence."
Schebler, 26, who lost his left-handed portion of the left-field platoon to All-Star Adam Duvall early in the first half, batted .290/.357/.461 with eight homers in 55 games following his callup.
That contrasted his first 27 games before a demotion, when Schebler batted .188 with one homer. His improvement was not centered around mechanical changes to his swing as much as finding the right approach.
"It was more about getting into the right position more consistently," Schebler said. "When I wasn't playing every day, some days I would feel great and then some days I would not know where I was at, body-wise. My body awareness, from playing every day, is a little better. I think if I did that [platoon] role -- which hopefully I never have to do again -- after going through it, I think I would know my body a little better. I think I could control getting into a better spot more consistently."
Schebler -- acquired from the Dodgers in December in the trade that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox -- put in work with hitting coach Don Long to get better feel of his hitting load as he shifted his weight back to power the baseball.
"I felt like I was swinging with my foot in the air," Schebler said. "I wasn't getting into a good position. And if you're not getting into a good position, you're not seeing the ball as well as you can."
Not only did he collect more hits, Schebler was hitting the ball harder. During his first big league stint, according to Statcast™, the exit velocity of balls off of his bat were consistently below 90 mph, and his average was 86 mph the week of his demotion. Following the escape from his slump in mid-August, he was consistently over 90 mph and at 98 mph average in mid-September. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) went from .256 during his first stint to .329 following his return. Four of his homers were hit to left or center field.
Schebler also displayed improved defense -- especially with his throwing -- during the second half. Put it all together and the right-field job appears to be his heading into 2017. Schebler will spend the offseason at home in Iowa looking for ways to build on his first season in Cincinnati.
"Maybe I will do some work to help myself commanding the strike zone a little better," Schebler said. "I would like to do that this offseason and find a way to practice that. Maybe it comes with experience."