Three years ago, the Phillies gave Scott Kingery a six-year, $24 million contract in spring training and told him he had made the team. On Sunday, they gave him the news that he had been optioned to the minor leagues and will not be part of the 2021 opening-day roster.

That development would have seemed improbable at best when camp opened last month, but Kingery followed up his dismal 2020 season by hitting .159 with a .525 OPS while striking out 19 times in 49 plate appearances during 15 Grapefruit League games.

“Scott has been working hard to make some swing adjustments and he has played strictly center field while he was here and he has made some progress, but we think there is still more progress to be made,” manager Joe Girardi said after his team’s 6-2 win Sunday over the New York Yankees. “He has worked really hard and I really have and we really have a lot of belief in Scott Kingery.”

That might be true, but the plan is never to pay a guy $4.25 million to play in a minor-league camp in Allentown, Pa. Regardless of how the Kingery story turns out, the Phillies must pay him $19.75 million over the next three seasons.

Kingery’s demotion leaves the center-field competition down to Odubel Herrera, Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley with one Grapefruit League game remaining.

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» READ MORE: Phillies option reliever JoJo Romero to minor-league camp, leaving one lefty in bullpen

Zack Wheeler looks ready for season

The spring-training numbers have never looked pretty for Zack Wheeler and such was the case again during the 2021 Grapefruit League season. The No. 2 man in the Phillies’ starting rotation behind Aaron Nola went into his final exhibition start Sunday against the New York Yankees with a 5.94 ERA, having allowed 11 earned runs on 19 hits and six walks in 16 2/3 innings.

“I could care less how my spring goes, to be honest with you,” Wheeler said Sunday during a Zoom call after he dominated the Yankees for three innings during the Phillies’ 6-2 victory at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater, Fla.

Using primarily a nasty sinker, Wheeler threw 51 pitches -- 33 for strikes -- and held the Yankees to one hit over three scoreless innings. He walked one and struck out four.

“Obviously you want to do well and get in the work you need, but the numbers don’t matter at all,” Wheeler said. “You kind of work on stuff every time out, throwing pitches that you might not necessarily throw in the game during the season. But you work on that stuff so maybe you can throw them in a game during the season. Now is the time to work on it and sometimes you get hurt by it in spring training, but you’re still just working on stuff and trying to stay healthy.”

Wheeler finished the spring with a 5.03 ERA, marking the fourth time in six years that he has had an ERA above 5.00 at the end of spring training. His career exhibition ERA is 5.48 and three years ago with the New York Mets he had an 8.10 ERA in five spring appearances, allowing 22 hits in 10 innings. That ended up being the best full season of his career as he posted a 12-7 record with a 3.31 ERA. He allowed just 150 hits that season and had a career-low 1.124 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched).

In his first season with the Phillies last year, Wheeler had a 4.97 ERA in spring training before going 4-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 11 regular-season starts.

“I threw all my pitches this spring and I got the shape I wanted out of them,” Wheeler said. “I just wanted to have everything consistent going into the season. I feel confident going into this season. I’m coming off a couple of good years in a row and I’m trying to work off that and I want to keep getting better. You can’t ever stop trying to get better because somebody is always trying to take your job.”

Zack Wheeler’s job, even after another spring training with an elevated ERA, is quite secure.

» READ MORE: Phillies 6, Yankees 2: Lack of starter depth results in roster spot for Vince Velasquez

The rundown

Scott Lauber has a terrific tale about how a 21-year-old business major at Western Michigan rearranged his final examinations in order to attend the 1977 winter meetings in Hawaii. It’s a story about how Phillies president Dave Dombrowski took his first steps toward becoming one of the brilliant baseball minds of his generation.

Manager Joe Girardi said he could hear his players talk quite a bit during spring training about how it’s time to win and get back to the playoffs. A lot of outsiders, including myself, remain skeptical.

Columnist David Murphy writes that Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement gives Odubel Herrera every right to be the Phillies’ center fielder.

You might think that a veteran pitcher with closer experience like Brandon Kintzler was immune from the pressure that comes from making a major-league team as a non-roster invitee. Kintzler, after learning he will be part of the Phillies’ 2021 bullpen, explained why that wasn’t the case for him.

Important dates

Today: Grapefruit League finale vs. Toronto features Zach Eflin’s return, 1:05 p.m.

Thursday: Aaron Nola starts season opener against Atlanta’s Max Fried, 3:05 p.m.

Friday: Off day

Saturday: Zack Wheeler faces the Braves, 4:05 p.m.

Sunday: Series finale with Braves, 1:05 p.m.

Stat of the day

Joe Girardi talked often this spring about how the left-handed hitting Odubel Herrera had to face a lot of tough lefthanders during Grapefruit League games and that he held his own. He was even impressed when Herrera flied out in an at-bat Sunday against Yankees hard-throwing lefty Aroldis Chapman.

Of the three remaining candidates in the Phillies’ center-field competition, Herrera has had by far the most career success against lefties. In fact, his splits against lefthanders and righthanders are very similar. Herrera has a .276 career average (159-for-577), a .324 on-base percentage and a .708 OPS against lefties. He has a .277 career average (471-for-1703), a .336 on-base percentage and a .772 OPS against righthanders. Roman Quinn, a switch-hitter, has a .245 (34-for-149) career average, a .309 on-base percentage and a .770 OPS against lefties and a .230 batting average (61-for-265) with a .304 on-base percentage and .617 OPS against righthanders. The left-handed hitting Adam Haseley has the smallest sample size and worst numbers against lefties with a .242 batting average (15-for-62), a .299 on-base percentage and a .589 OPS. He has hit .276 (66-for-239) with a .338 on-base percentage and .744 OPS against righthanders.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.

Question: Enjoying your coverage, thanks. My question: some recent broadcaster comments suggest we’re seeing a shift in Phillies hitting philosophy, away from a Kapler era focus on pulling the ball, launch angle, home run or bust, to a more traditional emphasis on using the whole field, sacrificing, bunting, etc. I’m 100% for the old-school philosophy, but how real is the shift in what’s being preached in camp? Where is hitting guru Charlie Manuel at on these topics?

Joe K. via email

Answer: Thanks for the kind words Joe and for the very timely question. What manager Joe Girardi said after Scott Kingery was optioned to the minor leagues Sunday fits in with the narrative you were hearing on Phillies broadcasts. “We’re just trying to get him back to where he is a line-drive, doubles hitters who runs into some home runs and uses the whole field and he has worked real hard at it the last couple of weeks and he’ll continue to work at it.” There are a lot of people who believe the Phillies’ analytics regime messed around too much with Kingery’s swing and the results were disastrous. I don’t think Gabe Kapler deserves blame because that decision was above his pay grade. I also don’t think it’s up to Charlie Manuel to make the systemwide changes. His advice will always be valuable, but the hitting instructors from the top to the bottom of the farm system and at the major-league level need to have a uniform idea about how they are going to teach hitting. That doesn’t mean one size fits all or that launch angles are for everyone. We shall see what direction this all heads in the future.