News that the Phillies activated super utility man Scott Kingery from the injured list before Sunday’s series finale against the Colorado Rockies was not all that surprising. Everything else about the move, however, was at least a little bit unexpected.
Start with the Phillies’ decision to create a roster spot for Kingery by optioning outfielder Nick Williams to triple-A Lehigh Valley. Williams, 25, spent all of last season in the big leagues and has not played a game for the IronPigs since joining the Phillies on June 30, 2017. He started 101 games and hit 17 home runs last season, but his role was reduced to seldom-used bench player after the Phillies signed free agents Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper.
The hope was that Williams could thrive as a pinch-hitter after he hit .357 (10-for-28) with three home runs and eight RBIs in that role last season. But that was when he was also getting regular at-bats as a starter. He had started just eight of 45 games this season and was hitting .125 (3-for-24) as a pinch-hitter and .180 (11-for-61) overall.
“I think the important thing for him right now is to get a lot of reps,” Phillies assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “He has been in a tough spot all year. We signed (McCutchen), we signed Harper. A lot of the playing time he expected to be able to get went away.”
The clubhouse closed before Williams was informed of his demotion, which also meant that veterans Sean Rodriguez and Phil Gosselin remained in the big leagues after going to spring training as non-roster invitees. Rice said he thought Williams handled his significant decrease in playing time well, but the club felt it had taken its toll on his ability to perform as a pinch-hitter.
“He was one of the better pinch-hitters in the National League last year for us,” Rice said. “He had a lot of big hits ... so I can think that’s a role he can thrive in. We just think he’s a really talented guy. This is more about getting him right than anything else."
The other mild surprise was that Kingery, after missing a month with a right hamstring injury, not only returned, but was also in the lineup as the starting center fielder against Rockies lefty Kyle Freeland. Kingery had never started a professional game in center field before Sunday.
Like Kingery, Rodriguez and Gosselin have played a lot more in the infield than the outfield during their careers. They are also all right-handed hitters.
“Obviously it’s a bit of an odd bench right now,” Rice said. “We have three right-handed hitters and a catcher (Andrew Knapp). We feel comfortable with any of those guys playing any position.”