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Mickey Moniak continues to open eyes in Phillies’ center-field competition

The former first overall pick came off the bench Tuesday and tripled against a tough left-handed pitcher.

With a triple Tuesday against a tough left-handed pitcher, outfielder Mickey Moniak continues to have an impressive spring training for the Phillies.
With a triple Tuesday against a tough left-handed pitcher, outfielder Mickey Moniak continues to have an impressive spring training for the Phillies.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

It’s still early, barely one-third of the way through a 28-game exhibition schedule. But Mickey Moniak is channeling 2018 Scott Kingery in a bid for a spot on the Phillies’ opening-day roster.

Surely you recall what Kingery did three years ago, batting .411 (23-for-56) with five home runs in Grapefruit League games, agreeing to a six-year, $24 million contract, and going from a spring-training long shot to standing on the third-base line for the national anthem before the season opener in Atlanta.

Moniak need not worry about the contract. The first overall pick in the 2016 draft made his major-league debut last September, eliminating the service-time considerations for the Phillies. And after coming off the bench Tuesday to deliver a one-out triple in the eighth inning (against tough Toronto Blue Jays lefty reliever Ryan Borucki, no less) , his spring performance is becoming more difficult to ignore. Moniak is 5-for-9 with four extra-base hits.

“He’s looked really good. I mean, he’s been impressive,” manager Joe Girardi said after a 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla. “I’ve said all along he’s interesting, and I’m going to say it again: He’s interesting. Because I think there’s a lot of talent there.”

Interesting enough to begin cracking the starting lineup more often?

Although Moniak is vying with Scott Kingery, Roman Quinn, and Odúbel Herrera in the wide-open center-field competition, he hasn’t gotten as many starts as the others, with his nine spring at-bats spread out over eight games.

“Well, I think there are some games that he’s probably going to start,” Girardi said. “We try to give everyone starts.”

If Moniak is a dark horse in the center-field race, it’s because he missed out on valuable minor-league development time last year because of the pandemic. The Phillies would rather that the 22-year-old get a full season’s worth of at-bats in triple A before throwing him into the deep end of the major-league pool.

Girardi said the Phillies are mindful of making sure Moniak plays regularly once the season starts. But the triple-A season won’t start until at least May. Is Moniak better off getting regular at-bats at the alternate site in April or potentially coming off the bench in the big leagues?

Or maybe Moniak keeps on hitting, just as Kingery did in 2018, and forces the Phillies to make him the opening-day center fielder.

» READ MORE: Pinch hitting is back. Here’s what it takes to succeed in one of baseball’s toughest jobs.

“One thing that you don’t want a young player to do is to come up and sit,” Girardi said. “If you’re going to play, you’ve got to play, and you’ve got to decide, ‘OK, it’s time for him to play.’ That’s one of the things, if Mickey continues to make this really, really interesting, that will have to be discussed.”

Less is Moore

Matt Moore came out of the bullpen because the Phillies wanted to give Vince Velasquez a start in the ongoing competition for a spot in the rotation. It didn’t matter. The veteran lefty breezed through the third and fourth innings, allowing one hit.

Moore, a favorite to claim either the fourth- or fifth-starter job, threw 17 of 22 pitches for strikes. He landed his changeup and got mostly weak contact on the ground (three groundouts) and in the air (three flyouts).

» READ MORE: The Phillies’ Spencer Howard dilemma is similar to what Archie Bradley faced four years ago

“His changeup was outstanding today,” Girardi said. “He’s done a really good job with controlling the counts.”

Velasquez ran into trouble in the second inning, allowing two runs (one earned) on two walks and a single.

Extra bases

Kingery went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts (on 13 pitches) and is 2-for-14 this spring; Herrera went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. ... Young infielder Nick Maton drove in the Phillies’ run with a two-out double in the eighth inning. ... Velasquez switched agents in the offseason, leaving Scott Boras for Creative Artists Agency, which represents J.T. Realmuto. ... Left-hander Ranger Suarez, whose arrival in camp was delayed by visa issues, tweaked his quadriceps over the weekend and likely will be sidelined for a week, according to Girardi. Suarez has not yet appeared in an exhibition game. ... The Phillies will host the Detroit Tigers at 1:05 p.m. Wednesday. Spencer Howard is expected to start, followed by Chase Anderson. The game will be televised on NBC Sports Philadelphia+.