Why Phillies want Scott Kingery at shortstop despite defensive issues

Why Phillies want Scott Kingery at shortstop despite defensive issues

These four games the Phillies have played against the Brewers over the last week have been eye-opening. They've shown just how far the 2018 club is from contending with the NL's best on a nightly basis.

In the span of seven days, the Phillies have allowed 12, 12 and 13 runs to the Brewers. They salvaged a one-run win last Sunday but have been outscored in the four games 40-13.

The Brewers are much better offensively. They're better defensively, especially with how the Phils have fielded lately. 

Jake Arrieta took all the blame after Friday's 13-2 loss, refusing to criticize his defense. But there was more than enough blame to go around, with Scott Kingery committing two errors, Rhys Hoskins dropping a flyball and J.P. Crawford making an errant throw. With the four errors, the Phillies lead the National League with 54 and Arrieta has allowed the most unearned runs in the NL with 11.

Phillies fans are extra frustrated with the defense lately because of the perception that all three young infielders are playing out of position. Hoskins came up as a first baseman and is playing left field. Crawford came up as a shortstop and is starting at third base in place of Maikel Franco, who's being phased out. Kingery has been at shortstop every day after playing just two games there in the minors.

But this is where manager Gabe Kapler cites the future, when contending is more realistic for the Phillies than it is in 2018.

"I don't think there's anything dramatic we do (defensively), we don't try anything crazy," Kapler told reporters. "We understand that our players are young, that they're developing, they're learning positions. They've also played fantastic at times, specifically J.P. and Scotty playing well on the left side of the diamond, showing people they can and will continue to do that."

With Kingery hitting .219/.275/.333 with seven errors, the natural question the last six weeks has been why the Phillies aren't playing him at his natural position? It's relevant in terms of the day-to-day of this team, but Kapler and the front office are looking at the big picture, which is Kingery's long-term future, not a game in Milwaukee in mid-June.

"I think if you put him at second base, ideally that would probably be the most comfortable landing spot for him," Kapler said. "But I don't think Scott Kingery is the type of personality that needs to be coddled. I think he's the type of personality that thrives on being challenged. And I don't think that looking at some struggles is the way to analyze this properly. I think the way to analyze this properly is to ask, 'Is this young man getting better because of this experience?' 

"I think the answer to that is yes. Is he strong mentally, tough physically and capable of handling this challenge? I think the answer is yes. At the end of the day do we think he's going to be one of our better players for many years to come because of this experience? The answer is yes." 

So that's why Kingery is at short. It's clear from Kapler's answers that the Phillies view Kingery as the better long-term option at shortstop, and it's clear from Kapler's actions that he views Kingery as the better option right now. It's also abundantly clear that Crawford is being valued at third base ahead of Franco.

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Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

CLEARWATER — Aaron Nola did not have a bad season in 2019 by any stretch of the imagination. He made every start and went 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA. There are pitchers all over baseball who would love to have a season like that.

But it's indisputable that Nola's 2019 season was not nearly as good as his 2018 season. In 2018, he was brilliant. He went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA. He finished third in the National League Cy Young voting.

Nola's WHIP in 2018 was a sterling 0.975.

Last season, it was 1.265.

After pitching two scoreless innings in his spring debut Sunday, Nola reflected on his 2019 season.

"I didn't get ahead," he said.

He's right.

Check out the numbers.

In 2018, Nola threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. That ranked second in the majors to St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas (71.1).

Last season, Nola's first-pitch strike percentage slipped to 62.3. That ranked 39th in the majors, well behind leader Max Scherzer (70.4) and teammate Zach Eflin, who ranked fourth (68.6).

Nola ended up walking 3.6 batters per nine innings last season, up from 2.5 in his big year of 2018.

So, it's no surprise what Nola is working on this spring.

"Just fill up the strike zone and throw the ball down a lot," he said. "That's kind of the key. Get ahead of guys and stay ahead of guys. I just want to focus on having that tunnel vision around the plate."

If you've paid attention to the things Phillies pitchers have said this spring and even late last season, you know they weren't always comfortable with the practices of former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young. The theme in this camp, at least among the pitchers, can be summed up in one word.


"I'm just going to simplify some things and throw my fastball for strikes," Nola said. "I don't want to throw too hard too early in the count."

Nola pointed to his outing Sunday. He allowed a hit to open the game then got a double-play ball with a strike down in the zone.

"I want to try to get ground balls and I felt like I did that today," Nola said. "I got a double play and it's satisfying to get double plays."

Nola, 26, has so far enjoyed bonding with Bryan Price, his fourth pitching coach in as many seasons. Price espouses some traditional philosophies, like keeping the ball down. In that regard, he is similar to Bob McClure and Rick Kranitz, two former Phillies pitching coaches that Nola thrived under.

"That's been my mindset ever since I started to pitch and it is really stressed now," he said of pitching down in the zone. "I think that's what pitching should be and that's what we've always learned how to do.

"I think the state of the game is to simplify things and get back to that part of it. I look forward to my one-on-one bullpen sessions with (Price). When you have a bad game or not as good of a game as you want to go back to basics in the bullpen sessions. I've had previous pitching coaches like that and it has helped me a lot. Just to simplify things is going to go a long way."

Nola believes if he does a better job getting ahead early in counts that his curveball and particularly his changeup will become better weapons for him in 2020. His changeup blossomed under McClure and Kranitz during their stints in Philadelphia.

"My changeup wasn't as consistent as it was in previous years," Nola said. "I am just trying to get back to throwing that for strikes down more.

"When I'm throwing everything for strikes, I have three pitches."

Manager Joe Girardi has not named an opening day starter yet, but Nola is expected to be the guy when he does.

And when Nola takes the mound March 26 in Miami, his goal will be this:

Strike 1.

That's a big reason he had a great season in 2018 and why he slipped some in 2019.

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Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies ace Aaron Nola made his first start of the spring Sunday while their new No. 2, Zack Wheeler, is slated to debut Saturday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Wheeler has been throwing to hitters at the Phils' minor-league complex.

Fifth starter candidates remain in focus as Vince Velasquez makes his first start on Monday against the Orioles in Clearwater.

Nick Pivetta, another candidate, made his first start Saturday and showed a potential new weapon.

Lefty Ranger Suarez is being stretched out as a starter and could be a dark-horse candidate for the fifth job. He will get a start Tuesday at Bradenton while Jake Arrieta starts in Clearwater that day. Suarez pitched well out of the bullpen last year but was groomed as a starter in the minors.

Zach Eflin will make his spring debut Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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