Cincinnati Reds teammates Scott Schebler and Joey Votto will often find themselves in the middle of a staredown.
In the midst of these tense exchanges, each player already knows what the other is thinking: home run. The two standout power hitters have both belted a team-high 20 home runs this season for the Reds, and with each blast comes more “friendly competition.”
“It’s pretty cool,” Schebler said Friday. “First full season in the big leagues, to be tied with a guy like Joey is pretty special. It’s really a friendly competition and it’s honestly fun because we push each other and that’s the coolest part, having that team competition, which I think is a good thing.”
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While the ultimate goal is to win games — the Reds (30-43) are at the bottom of the NL Central — Schebler said the home run battle is a chance to “poke fun a little bit here and there.”
It’s also a chance for the pair to etch their names in the record books.
Schebler and Votto are the first teammates with 20 home runs each in the Reds’ first 73 games since Tony Perez (26) and Johnny Bench (25) did it in 1970.
Reds outfielder Adam Duvall, who hit 33 home runs in 2016, has 16 this season. The only season in which three Reds players produced at least 20 home runs before the all-star break was also 1970, when Perez (29), Bench (28) and Lee May (20) did it.
And while the trio of Votto, Schebler and Duvall were unable to produce any long balls Friday night or Saturday night against the Nationals, they’re still on pace to produce 124 home runs this season. The single-season club record for home runs by a Reds trio is 119, again in 1970 by Bench (45), Perez (40) and May (34).
But of the three Cincinnati sluggers, Schebler’s rise has been the most recent, and the most surprising. Votto, a four-time all-star and the 2010 NL MVP, has stayed consistent for the Reds. He has tallied 20 or more home runs in eight of his 11 seasons with the team.
Schebler, 26, is in his first full season in the big leagues after being chosen as a 26th-round pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010. He made his big-league debut in June 2015, playing only 19 games for the Dodgers before being shipped to the Reds in a three-team trade that sent Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox.
In 2016, Schebler had 68 hits, 40 RBI, and nine home runs for Cincinnati in 257 at-bats over 82 games. He started the season a part of the big-league roster, but was sent down to Class AAA Louisville in May. There, he posted a battling line of .311/.370/.564 to accompany his 13 home runs, eight triples and 18 doubles in 75 games.
“I think that he came into our organization, and I hate to say that it was precarious, but it was,” Reds Manager Bryan Price said. “His at-bats were going to come based on a performance basis and Duvall outperformed him last year and took the job.”
It wasn’t until last August when the Reds called up Schebler after the team traded right fielder Jay Bruce to the New York Mets. Before he was traded, Bruce was tied with Duvall for a team-high 25 home runs and was leading the National League with 80 RBI.
He had big shoes to fill, but Schebler proved his worth in his first appearance after returning to the big leagues. On Aug. 2, he went 3-for-5, crushing a three-run walk-off home run to beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-5.
So far, 2017 has proven to be a continuation of his success. With a stable major league job in right field, Schebler said his increased home run production has more to do with a change in mental attitude than anything else.
“Just getting the everyday playing time and working in the cage with our hitting coaches,” Schebler said. “Also maybe just a different mental approach this year than I had last year, being a little bit more calm and knowing that I will be able to play everyday obviously eases the worries and helps a lot.”
Price said so far, Schebler has been “thriving” in his current position.
“He has taken advantage of this opportunity,” Price said. “You can’t stay with young forever if they aren’t performing and what he’s done is performed. He defends extremely well, he is good on the bases. He’s given me no reason to think about making him a platoon player or a guy that isn’t ready to be here.”
Schebler hit two home runs in his last four games before Friday night, blasting his 20th in Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. He went 2-for-3 with a home run, walk and two RBI in that game, the homer a solo shot launched over the left-center-field wall.
Schebler said it would be “cool” if he racked up 30 home runs this year - only so he can beat his minor league season record of 27 home runs with the Chattanooga Lookouts in 2014.
“I’m really not worried about it,” Schebler said. “Just trying to go out there and compete, and compete with Joey. It’s just fun competition and I really enjoy that part of the game.”
NL home run leaders
22: Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
20: Joey Votto, Reds
20: Scott Schebler, Reds
20: Eric Thames, Brewers
20: Marcell Ozuna, Marlins
19: Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
19: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
19: Jay Bruce, Mets