OK, so you didn’t really expect the Phillies to spend every day of the rest of the season in first place, did you? Did you?

For the first time in 48 days, the Phillies are waking up without at least a share of the top spot in the National League East. They wasted a stellar start from Zach Eflin last night in a 2-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park. Never mind that the Phillies were facing a 30-year-old starting pitcher who had spent the last four seasons in South Korea. They mustered only three hits in a feeble offensive performance.

Coupled with the Braves’ 8-7 walkoff victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phillies slipped one game off Atlanta’s pace in the division. While the Phillies are idle, the Braves will play again tonight before the rivals meet for a three-game showdown at SunTrust Park beginning Friday night.

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— Scott Lauber (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

Scott Kingery isn't a prototypical leadoff hitter, but as the Phillies' hottest offensive performer lately, he merits a chance to move to the top of the order.
CHARLES FOX / MCT
Scott Kingery isn't a prototypical leadoff hitter, but as the Phillies' hottest offensive performer lately, he merits a chance to move to the top of the order.

It’s time for the Phillies to let Scott Kingery take the lead

Once Andrew McCutchen went down for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, it made sense for the Phillies to give Cesar Hernandez the first crack at moving into the leadoff spot.

Eight games later, though, it’s time for a change.

Hernandez, who batted leadoff for most of the last two seasons, was 0-for-4 again last night and is 4-for-32 with three walks since taking over for McCutchen at the top of the order. His slump goes back even further, too. Since May 21, Hernandez is 13-for-79 (.165).

The Phillies don’t have the prototypical leadoff type to replace McCutchen. Bryce Harper has the patience to draw a lot of walks, but manager Gabe Kapler prefers that he come to the plate with runners on base. Roman Quinn is slated to be activated this weekend in Atlanta, but the Phillies might want to ease the oft-injured center fielder back by batting him lower in the order.

At this point, the best leadoff bet appears to be Scott Kingery, if for no reason other than to maximize the number of at-bats per game for the Phillies’ hottest hitter. Kingery has batted primarily in the No. 7 spot even though he has 20 hits in his last 68 at-bats. Eleven of those hits have gone for extra bases.

The improvement has been stark. As a rookie last year, Kingery was so badly overmatched that it wasn’t an exaggeration to call him one of the worst hitters in baseball. Today, his .969 on-base plus slugging percentage leads a Phillies offense that features Harper and Rhys Hoskins.

“I think we’ll consider everything,” Kapler said. “At the same time, it’s hard not to keep him right where he is. There’s a lot of value in the comfort he may be feeling right now.”

Maybe so. And there are reasons to question whether Kingery would represent a top-of-the-order fit. He still strikes out a bit too much, at least by leadoff-hitting standards, and has walked only five times in 119 plate appearances.

But Kapler never hesitates to challenge Kingery defensively by moving him among multiple positions, most recently using him as the team’s primary center fielder. The time has come to challenge him at the plate, too.

The rundown

Were you one of the unlucky fans who went to Citizens Bank Park last night hoping to catch a glimpse of Bryce Harper in right field only to get Nick Williams instead? Within this story by Matt Breen, Gabe Kapler explains why he chose last night to rest Harper for the first time this season.

As the Phillies continue to talk through their options to replace struggling Jerad Eickhoff in the starting rotation, David Murphy offers this uncomfortable truth: They don’t have many viable in-house alternatives.

Up-and-coming pitching prospect Kyle Glogoski grew up in far-flung New Zealand, as Marc Narducci writes. Here’s the story of how he wound up in the Phillies’ farm system.

Important dates

Today: 35th annual Phillies Phestival to strike out ALS, Citizens Bank Park, 3:30 p.m.

Tomorrow: Nick Pivetta opens a three-game series in Atlanta, 7:20 p.m.

Saturday: Aaron Nola faces the Braves, 7:20 p.m.

Monday: Phillies open a four-game series in Washington, 7:10 p.m.

Catcher J.T. Realmuto has started behind the plate for all but 10 of the Phillies' 68 games this season.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Catcher J.T. Realmuto has started behind the plate for all but 10 of the Phillies' 68 games this season.

Stat of the day

While Kapler picked last night to finally rest Harper, J.T. Realmuto started his 12th game in a row. The ironman catcher has started 58 of the Phillies’ 68 games and been behind the plate for at least a portion of 60 games, putting him on a pace to start 138 games and play 142.

Randy Hundley holds the record for most games caught in a season with 160, including 156 starts, for the Chicago Cubs in 1968. Bob Boone owns the Phillies’ mark with 148 games caught (142 starts) in 1974.

But that type of workload is increasingly rare. Since 2000, Brad Ausmus is the only catcher to reach the 150-game mark. Ausmus, Jason Kendall, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, and Salvador Perez are the only catchers to start at least 140 games in a season since 2000.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Answer: Thanks, Cole, for the question. I hear this a lot, especially at this time of the season. It becomes evident that a team has a glaring need, whether it’s pitching or a middle-of-the-order bat, and fans ask if the general manager can afford to wait until July 31 to address it.

It isn’t really a matter of preference. If the Phillies could acquire a starter right now, I’m sure they would. But the trade deadline is 49 days away, and many teams still haven’t decided if they’re going to add or subtract. The Texas Rangers, for instance, are unexpectedly in the wild-card mix in the American League, making it less likely that they would trade lefty Mike Minor. Of course, that could all change with one long losing streak.

With the elimination of August waiver trades, I do believe there will be more activity than usual before July 31. But the trade market doesn’t typically take shape until early July, and with few exceptions (the Seattle Mariners’ willingness to trade Jay Bruce, to name one), I think that will be the case again this year. So the Phillies might not have much choice but to tread water with what they have until they can upgrade the rotation next month.