PHOENIX — Scott Kingery has been looking forward to this trip.
And why not?
This is home.
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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