Everything is different for Scott Kingery on this trip home

Everything is different for Scott Kingery on this trip home

PHOENIX — Scott Kingery has been looking forward to this trip.

And why not?

This is home.

The desert.

He grew up here. His folks still live here. He went to Diamondbacks games as a kid. Went to Arizona State games. Watched Dustin Pedroia play for the Sun Devils.

Remember how Mike Piazza used to talk about the rush he got playing at the Vet, his boyhood field of dreams?

Chase Field, the domed ballpark in downtown Phoenix, is Kingery’s boyhood field of dreams.

The Phillies are in the midst of a three-game series in Phoenix and though this is not Kingery’s first trip home, it feels that way.

He was with the Phillies when they came here last August, but things were different then. He was a nervous rookie still learning to negotiate big-league traffic. He had lost his job as a regular. He only got five at-bats in the three-game series and went hitless.

“Last year, I wasn’t even playing every day at that point then I get a start against Patrick Corbin who’s having the year of his life,” Kingery recalled the other day with a laugh. “He’s a tough pitcher to hit regardless, but last year he was unbelievable. I was like, ‘OK, you haven’t played in a couple days, go hit Corbin.’ “

It didn’t go well. Kingery went 0 for 3 and struck out twice in that game.

A year later, everything is different for Scott Kingery.

“One-hundred percent different,” he said.

He returned to his boyhood field of dreams Monday night, smacked a homer in the second inning, a double in the sixth and helped turn two double plays at third base as the Phillies began an important seven-game road trip with a 7-3 win over the Diamondbacks.

The Phillies go into Tuesday night’s game tied with Washington for the lead in the NL wild card race.

They will need more big nights from Kingery — and Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and others — to stay in the race and prevail. The Phillies pitching staff, from the second spot in the starting rotation to the back of the bullpen, is filled with inconsistency. If the Phils are going to snap a way-too-long seven-year playoff drought, they will have to out-hit teams. It didn’t happen over the weekend against the White Sox. It did happen Tuesday night in Phoenix.

Kingery comes home with a new position. He played outfield and second base down in Tucson during his days at the University of Arizona. He started at shortstop one game when the Phils were here last year. He has spent most of this season in center field and has now succeeded the recently demoted Maikel Franco at third base. Kingery still has not gotten much of a look at his best position, but that will happen down the road, maybe next year, as third baseman Alec Bohm moves toward the majors and current second baseman Cesar Hernandez moves toward an uncertain future with the club.

“Personally, I think my skill set plays really well at second base.” Kingery said. “But center field, I feel like it plays well there, too. It’s not up to me to decide, though. Wherever it is, if I get consistent playing time, I’ll get comfortable and make it feel natural.”

Kingery is also open-minded as to where he hits in the batting order.

With Andrew McCutchen injured, Kingery recently got a long look in the leadoff spot. It did not go well. He hit just .192 with a .273 on-base percentage in July.

Last year, Kingery got too passive at the plate, let too many good fastballs go by early in counts. During the offseason, he took stock of his skills, of what got him to the majors. He decided he needed to go back to being aggressive on fastballs early in counts. That could make him a good RBI guy in the middle of the batting order, like the No. 6 hole, where he hit Monday night. He’s hit sixth or seventh in four games this month and has had three multi-hit games with three extra-base hits and four RBIs.

“In the minor leagues, you get multiple pitches per at-bat that you can drive,” Kingery said. “When you come up here, you start to realize real fast that you might get one and you have to hit it.

“I tried to be super-selective last year. I was a defensive hitter. I thought I could take one down the middle for strike one and still get a pitch to hit and that’s not the case. In the minors, whether I was hitting first or third, if I got a first-pitch fastball to hit, I was on it. I’ve gotten back to that this year. I’m not letting people sneak hittable pitches by me."

Veteran or rookie, all big-leaguers go through slumps, times that test their emotional mettle.

Kingery, 25, was able to survive his struggles last month because he now has experience to draw upon.

Though last year was a struggle, he learned from it.

“It obviously didn’t go the way I wanted, but stepping back and looking at it and looking at what I went through — I really did have a lot going on last year,” he said. “I was learning new positions, learning big-league pitchers. There was a lot to take in.”

On top of it all, Kingery was trying to show the Phillies they made the right call giving him a six-year, $24 million contract before he ever played a big-league game.

“I’m more relaxed this year,” he said. “I’m not running around like my hair is on fire. It’s a completely different feel.

“For most of last year, it was like I have to prove myself, I just got this contract, I have to prove that I belong here and that I’m worth the contract, and when you’re thinking like that it’s tough and you’re going to put more pressure on yourself than you should and you can’t play like that.”

It’s all different for Scott Kingery now.

He’s not that nervous kid trying to negotiate big-league traffic anymore.

He feels like he belongs.

And this trip home feels a lot better than the last.

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Larry Bowa recalls two special seasons with (almost unanimous) Hall of Famer Derek Jeter

Larry Bowa recalls two special seasons with (almost unanimous) Hall of Famer Derek Jeter

Larry Bowa asked a question Tuesday afternoon.

“You think he’ll be unanimous?”

Derek Jeter was a 14-time All-Star and a five-time World Series champion with the New York Yankees. He won a Rookie of the Year award, was a World Series MVP and finished in the top 10 in American League MVP voting eight times. He won five Gold Gloves at shortstop and finished his career with 3,465 hits. Only Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker had more.

We’re talking rare air here, folks.

We’re talking icon.

So, six hours before the official Hall of Fame announcement was to come down early Tuesday night, the question that Bowa posed wasn’t whether Jeter would make it through the doors of Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility – that was a slam-dunk, take-it-to-the-bank, lead-pipe cinch – it was would he be just the second player ever to be elected unanimously.

“He should be,” Bowa said.

The answer to Bowa’s question came soon enough.

No, Jeter did not make it into the Hall unanimously, as his great Yankee teammate Mariano Rivera did the year before. But he still received historic support as he sailed into Hardball Heaven on his first try.

Jeter appeared on 396 of the 397 ballots cast by voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Voters are encouraged but not required to make their ballots public. The identity of the one writer who did not vote for Jeter was not immediately known. That person will likely come forward at some point, not that it will matter a whole lot in the final analysis. The 99.7 percent of the vote that Jeter did receive is the highest ever for a position player.

Hard-hitting outfielder Larry Walker, an MVP and three-time National League batting champ, was also elected. He made it by six votes in his 10th and final year on the writers’ ballot.

Former Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling missed by 20 votes, but his 70 percent bodes well for future election. He needs to get to 75 percent of the vote in his final two years on the ballot.

Another former Phillie, third baseman Scott Rolen, received 35.3 percent of the vote in his third year on the ballot.

Bowa, the great former Phillies shortstop and manager, played 2,222 games at shortstop, seventh-most all time. Jimmy Rollins played 2,227 games at short, sixth-most all-time. Omar Vizquel ranks first on the list at 2,709 and Jeter is second at 2,674.

Bowa enjoyed an up-close look at Jeter’s greatness during the 2006 and 2007 seasons when he was third-base coach for the Yankees. Jeter still had another seven seasons to go in his career, but even at that point, Bowa knew he was looking at a Hall of Famer.

“He just had an aura about him that said, ‘If you want to be a big-leaguer, watch me,’ “ Bowa recalled. “It was that way in everything he did. He never sulked if he didn’t get any hits.

“In my two years there, I don’t think I ever saw him make a mental mistake. He was always well prepared. He was very coachable and open to advice. He never jogged. He always played the right way. In big situations with the game on the line, he wanted to be at the plate. And he produced.”

Bowa compared Jeter to a couple of players he managed with the Phillies, one a Hall of Famer, one a potential Hall of Famer.

“He reminded me of Jim Thome, the way he handled himself,” Bowa said. “Very humble guys. Both team-first. If it was the eighth inning and a guy led off with a double, you didn’t have to tell Jeter to get the ball to the right side and get him over to third.

“He was a little bit like Chase Utley. You wind him up in April, say good luck and have a good year, and at the end of year he’d have a great season. He could have played without any leader or manager. Incredible work ethic.”

Like any other player, Jeter could have an off day, though not often. Bowa recalled a time in 2007 when the Yankees played an awful game. 

“I think it was a Sunday game,” Bowa said. “It might have been the worst game I’d ever seen the Yankees play.”

The performance left manager Joe Torre quietly seething. He called the team together after the game.

“I’d never seen Joe angry before,” Bowa said. “He usually got with guys one-on-one in his office if he wasn’t happy and no one knew about it. But this time, we played so bad that he felt like he had to get everyone together.”

Torre didn’t go after the 25th man.

He went right for the heart – Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

“He was all over them,” Bowa said. “It was the only time I ever saw Joe get on a guy like that. There was no swearing or anything like that, but he literally pointed them out and told them they were better than that and he expected more.”

The next day, Jeter was getting ready to do some early work with Bowa in the infield. Bowa asked him about what had gone down the day before.

“Jeter was completely accountable,” Bowa said. “He said he deserved it. That really showed me something. Here was a guy putting together a Hall of Fame career and he just got it. He didn’t take it personally.”

And he won’t take not being a unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame personally, either.

Ninety-nine-point-seven percent.

We’re still talking rare air here, folks.

“The guy was just solid, man,” Larry Bowa said. “So professional. Just a pleasure to watch. I’m really happy for him.” 

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Make that 2 buy-low bullpen moves for the Phillies

Make that 2 buy-low bullpen moves for the Phillies

Drew Storen wasn't the only reliever the Phillies added early this week.

The Phils also agreed to a minor-league deal with veteran right-hander Bud Norris, according to Robert Murray.

The Phillies worked out Norris late last season but did not sign him.

Norris last pitched in 2018 with the Cardinals. He was pretty effective, posting a 3.59 ERA in 57⅔ innings with 67 strikeouts. He saved 28 games.

Relievers are so volatile from year to year that it stands to reason one of Storen or Norris will recapture some success in 2020. The Phillies have seen quite clearly over the last two seasons that big relief contracts are a gamble. They paid David Robertson, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek a combined $57 million and all three dealt with long-term injuries.

The big wild-card in the Phils' bullpen is Seranthony Dominguez, who missed most of last season with arm injuries but could be a much-needed and useful weapon if he can revert to his 2018 form.

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