Phillies

Scott Kingery is a spring star again

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Scott Kingery is a spring star again

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DUNEDIN, Fla. — Scott Kingery is off to another great start in spring training and it’s still not going to land him in the big leagues.

At least not immediately.

Oh, he’s coming. He’s not far away. But the Phillies, for now, are set at second base with Cesar Hernandez and that makes it easy to have Kingery open the season at Triple A, where he spent half of last season. Delaying the start of Kingery’s major-league clock by even a month or so means he won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2024 season. If Kingery were to open this season in the majors, he could be eligible for free agency after the 2023 season. That extra year of control will be nice for the Phillies if Kingery ends up being the player they think he will be.

Kingery, who hit his second homer of the spring in Wednesday’s 7-1 loss to the Blue Jays, is unfazed by it all.

“I understand you have the business side of it, how it works where I get an extra year of control,” he said. “I had some struggles [at Triple A] a little bit toward the end of last year, so why not go there and fine-tune them for a little while and see if I can get better so I can be even better and bring that with me for when I finally do get called up?”

Kingery, who turns 24 on April 29, didn’t struggle too much last year. His combined totals at Double A and Triple A: .304, 29 doubles, 26 homers, 65 RBIs, 29 steals, .889 OPS. He thinks he can improve his work on the bases and steal 45 this season.

Kingery was an early-camp star last spring. He went 6 for 21 in 10 games with a double, two homers and five runs scored en route to logging a 1.019 OPS. So far this spring, he is 4 for 9 with two homers.

“He’s a smart kid,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He understands a lot of what’s going on around him and nothing discourages him. He’s got laser-sharp focus on the step in front of him and that is the next at-bat or play in the field. He just wants an opportunity to shine and he’s shining. He has that unique special makeup you don’t find very often.”

Kingery added some versatility to his game by playing some third base and shortstop at Triple A last season. He is likely to get a look in center field at some point this spring. He absolutely projects as the Phillies’ second baseman of the future, but the future at that position might not begin until the team cashes in on Hernandez’s trade value. Kingery could get to the big leagues before that, possibly as a stopgap at third base if Maikel Franco doesn’t produce consistently this season.

Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

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Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There will be no quick hook for Aaron Nola this opening day. As long as he’s effective and getting the job done, he’s staying in the game longer than 68 pitches. There are no restrictions.

“Absolutely none,” pitching coach Chris Young said.

With Young looking on and Andrew Knapp doing the catching, Nola made his final start of the spring in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex on Friday. The Phillies chose to have Nola make his final tune-up in a controlled setting to ensure that he get his pitch count up and get into the sixth inning. He threw 91 pitches and left in the middle of the sixth.

Nola’s next outing will come Thursday at Citizens Bank Park against the Atlanta Braves. It will be Nola’s second straight opening day start against the Braves. Last year’s came in Atlanta and still lives in infamy. Nola was cruising along with a 5-0 lead in the sixth inning when rookie manager Gabe Kapler went to his bullpen and started playing the matchup game. The bullpen ended up blowing the lead, the Phillies lost, 8-5, and Kapler was roasted for taking his starter out at 68 pitches. Even the soft-spoken Nola was miffed.

As it turned out, Kapler’s controversial decision to hook Nola on opening day turned out to be a growth moment in the two men’s relationship.

“For sure,” Nola confirmed. “We had a talk after the game and he let me go the rest of the season. That’s what I want to do.”

For the season, Nola ended up pitching 212 1/3 innings, fifth most in the majors. He finished fourth in the majors in ERA (2.37) and quality starts (25) and fifth in WHIP (0.97) on his way to a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting. He threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. Only St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas (71 percent) did that more often.

Armed with a new four-year, $45 million contract, Nola, 25, comes into the new season with high expectations. He challenged for the Cy Young Award last season and there’s no reason he can’t do it again this season.

But Nola is more concerned with team expectations. On paper, the Phils are the most improved club in baseball and they’re expected to contend in the NL East. The improved roster and heightened expectations can be seen at the newsstands as Nola joins Rhys Hoskins and newcomers Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.

“We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete,” Nola said. “Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.

“You look at the type of guys we’ve got, All Stars, MVPs, Cy Young winners. We got ‘em on our team. But there are no guarantees.  We still have to play and compete.”

As opening day comes into focus, players are always eager to get spring training over and begin the season. There seems to be an extra bit of juice in the Phillies’ clubhouse, a feel that this team knows it could be pretty good and it can’t wait to get started and see how it all plays out.

“That’s accurate, for sure,” Nola said. “We’re all excited and ready to go. It’s not just that we have good ballplayers and good talent in there, I think they’re good guys, too, and I think that makes more icing on the cake because the better guys you have, the better chemistry you have and the easier it is to play with each other.”

Nola said he is right where he needs to be physically. He feels great. He’s excited to see Citizens Bank Park sold out on Thursday and face Atlanta’s Julio Teheran. This season of big expectations is almost here.

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More on the Phillies

At The Yard Podcast: Bryce Harper rounding into form; why Nick Pivetta in Game 2?

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At The Yard Podcast: Bryce Harper rounding into form; why Nick Pivetta in Game 2?

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman and Jim Salisbury discuss how Bryce Harper is starting to get his timing down at the plate. Is there any connection whatsoever between spring training and regular-season productivity?

This is an important season for Nick Pivetta. Is he ready for it, and what went into naming him the starter in Game 2?

Also, an injury update on Rhys Hoskins.

1:00 — Bryce Harper is starting to get his timing down.
3:00 — Any carryover between spring training and real baseball?
6:00 — Why is Nick Pivetta starting Game 2?
13:00 — Phillies want a consistent batting order.
17:00 — Is Odubel Herrera starting to "get it?"
20:00 — Update on Rhys Hoskins.
22:00 — Next Phillie in line for an extension.

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