Phillies

2B prospect Scott Kingery 'might be on fast track to big leagues'

2B prospect Scott Kingery 'might be on fast track to big leagues'

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies' Double A Reading club had 89 wins last season, the second most in all of minor-league baseball.

With Roman Quinn, Jorge Alfaro, Rhys Hoskins, Dylan Cozens and others, the Reading club was loaded with top prospects.

That's why it was so remarkable late last season when a Phillies' official said, "You know, there are nights when Scott Kingery is the best player on the field."

Kingery, a second baseman who turns 23 in April, was the Phillies' second-round pick in the 2015 draft, a former walk-on at the University of Arizona who blossomed into a Pac-12 batting champ (.392) his junior year.

Kingery, 5-10 and 180 pounds of pure ballplayer, was so impressive his first two seasons in the Phillies' minor-league system that he earned an invite to big-league camp this spring.

He is making the most of it.

He had a huge game in the Phillies' 7-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He singled, doubled and homered in four at-bats. He also made a couple of nice plays in the field, including a backpedaling, over-the-shoulder grab in shallow right field to end the top of the eighth inning.

The Phillies rallied for four runs to come back from two runs down in the bottom of that inning. Of course, spring star Brock Stassi had the big hit, a three-run homer to put the Phillies ahead.

Stassi, who has two homers and a double in the four games in which he has played, is a serious candidate to win a spot on the Phillies' bench.

Kingery -- who has just 37 games and 156 at-bats of experience above the Single A level -- is not a candidate to break with the big club. But manager Pete Mackanin thinks he might not be that far away.

"I heard a lot about Scott Kingery and how good a player he is and he sure looks like one," Mackanin said after Tuesday's game. "He's made a good impression on me and the coaching staff. Today was a good example of what he can do. He might be on the fast track to the big leagues."

Kingery is a pretty levelheaded kid. As happy as he was with his game Tuesday, he was quite realistic. He needs more seasoning. The blueprint calls for him to open back at Double A and build on the six weeks he spent there last year.

"I feel I need to spend some more time in Double A," Kingery said. "I didn't get much time there last year. I think that's what I'll head back to and just try to figure out that pitching and climb up the ladder from there."

Jesmuel Valentin is expected to open the season as the second baseman at Triple A Lehigh Valley. He is a prospect, as well. He has been slowed in this camp by a sore shoulder.

The Phillies' depth at second base will put some heat on Cesar Hernandez to continue the improvement he showed in the second half of last season. It could also eventually turn Hernandez into a trade chip. According to multiple baseball sources, the Phillies were willing to listen on Hernandez this offseason, though the price was very high.

Another gem for Vince Velasquez, who's finally conquering his league-worst pace

Another gem for Vince Velasquez, who's finally conquering his league-worst pace

BOX SCORE

Vince Velasquez has been locked in since mid-June, which has been crucial for the Phillies with Nick Pivetta headed in the other direction.

The Padres couldn't touch Velasquez Sunday night, managing just two hits and a walk in his seven shutout innings (see first take). That's been a common theme for Velasquez over his last six starts, a span in which he has a 2.38 ERA and .134 opponents' batting average.

These last two starts in particular, Velasquez had pitched with a faster pace and more efficiency. Against the Mets and Padres — granted, the two worst offenses in the NL — he's thrown an average of just 13.2 pitches per inning.

He's picked up his pace on the mound, too, which was necessary. Velasquez entered Sunday night's game with the slowest pace in between pitches in all of baseball at 27.5 seconds.

"I think that's what has pretty much been the big turnaround for me," Velasquez said after his gem. "Finding that tempo and pretty much driving it through the game."

"That was as good as he's been all year," manager Gabe Kapler said. "The tempo, the pace and the energy levels were right on.

"It's the combination of keeping his rhythm and his pace but not losing control of his body. It's somewhere right in the middle. ... When he gets runners on base, he's done a really good job of holding runners on. The pickoff (of Freddy Galvis) was notable but just as important, he does a great job holding the baseball. As a runner at first base, you have difficulty timing your jumps and before you know it, your body shuts down naturally.

"Across the board, I think he's been an exceptional athlete for us on the mound."

The Phillies are finally seeing signs of growth from Velasquez. He's looked like more of a pitcher and less of a thrower lately. He hasn't been running the insanely deep, foul-ball fueled counts while in search of a strikeout.

Velasquez's next start will be a more accurate gauge of whether he's truly turned a corner because it comes at Great American Smallpark in Cincinnati against a potent Reds lineup.

Despite the weakness of the Padres' offense, Velasquez did win a high-pressure battle in the seventh inning Sunday against former All-Star Eric Hosmer, by far the most dangerous hitter in San Diego's lineup. With two men on, two outs and the Phillies up 1-0, Velasquez battled back from a 2-0 hole to induce a shallow flyout to left field.

The Phillies went on to win 5-0 but that was the biggest spot in the game, the kind of moment when a well-placed knock from Hosmer could have changed the complexion of the rest of the night.

"He really has seemed to flourish when we've asked him to pitch a little bit deeper into games and he's earned the right to do that," Kapler said after Velasquez's longest start of 2018. "Two strong outings in a row, very encouraging for Vinny."

Two years and three months ago, Velasquez made his best start as a major-leaguer against the Padres, striking out 16 in a three-hit shutout. He did it with a big, upper-90s fastball that missed bat after bat.

On Sunday, Velasquez attacked in a different way. He started exactly one-third of the batters he faced with a first-pitch breaking ball or changeup. He could have been as fastball-happy as ever against a Padres team on pace to strike out more than any club in the history of baseball, but mixing it up Sunday made sense. The Padres have been one of the majors' worst teams vs. non-fastballs, hitting .202.

Pitching, not throwing.

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Phillies option Aaron Altherr and Mark Leiter Jr. to Triple A Lehigh Valley

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Phillies option Aaron Altherr and Mark Leiter Jr. to Triple A Lehigh Valley

Aaron Altherr is headed to Triple A, where he’ll get a chance to play every day and rebuild some confidence after struggling for nearly four months.

Altherr, who batted fifth in the Phillies’ opening day lineup and was a big part of their outfield arrangement to start the year, was optioned to Lehigh Valley following Sunday’s doubleheader. Last season, Altherr hit .272 with 19 homers and 65 RBI in 412 plate appearances.

Reliever Mark Leiter Jr. was also optioned to Triple A, with corresponding roster moves coming Monday.

In his lone plate appearance Sunday against the Padres, Altherr came in as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning. After working a 3-1 count, he swung through two fastballs to strike out.

Altherr is hitting .171 in 248 plate appearances, with 12 double plays. He has the highest double-play rate of any player in the majors this season. 

Against lefties, Altherr is hitting just .164.

Leiter had a difficult outing in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader, allowing six hits and three runs in two innings of work. For the season, Leiter has a 5.74 ERA in 11 appearances. 

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