Scott Kingery’s solid second big-league season continued Thursday night in the Phillies’ series finale with the Atlanta Braves. In a game his team had to win to keep pace with the three wild-card contenders either ahead or tied with them, Kingery contributed a single and scored a run in the second inning of a 9-5 Phillies victory.
As always, the 25-year-old Arizona native had to check the lineup when he arrived for work. Such is the life of a baseball Swiss Army knife. Had you told Kingery two years ago after he finished the season at triple-A Lehigh Valley that only eight of his first 217 big-league starts would come at second base, he’d have suggested a head examination.
But times changed, the manager changed and his role changed. He arrived in spring training last year and forced his way onto the opening-day roster by showing that he could play a variety of positions. As a bonus, the Phillies also gave him a six-year, $24 million contract before his first big-league at-bat.
Kingery struggled mightily at the plate a year ago, but proved to be a pretty good shortstop after barely playing the position during his four minor-league seasons. Kingery started zero games in center field in the minors and last season, but this year, because of a variety of injuries and Odubel Herrera’s suspension, he has started 53 games in center field, including Thursday night’s. Center field, in fact, is the position he has played the most this season and he has played it remarkably well.
Manager Gabe Kapler admitted that at one point earlier this season he thought Kingery would become at least his semi-regular third baseman, replacing a slumping Maikel Franco, but that plan was scrapped because of an injury to rookie Adam Haseley, which sent Kingery back to center field.
It does not bother Kapler in the least that Kingery has not found a permanent home on the diamond even though the manager admitted Thursday that second base is “probably Scott’s best position.”
“But I don’t want to take anything away from the fact that I think he plays a plus shortstop, I think he plays a plus third base and I think he plays a plus center field,” Kapler said. “And if you gave him some reps in right field and left field, he’d be a plus right and left fielder, too. I mean really above average. I’m not talking about just standing out there. He’s really good at all those positions.”
Not surprisingly, Kapler believes that is really good for the Phillies. Kingery’s position flexibility and his ability to hit in a variety of spots in the lineup gives the manager a chance “to look at all the other matchups and put everybody else in a position to succeed knowing that Scott can fill whatever the open hole is.”
Kapler also thinks Kingery’s flexibility will be helpful when the Phillies start maneuvering this offseason.
“I think a player like Scott having now removed any doubt that he can move around and be successful … that gives a team a lot of flexibility in the offseason.”
The question is this: Is Kingery’s diamond floating the best thing for him, especially when it comes to hitting the baseball?
As good as his second season has been -- he has 19 home runs and an .817 OPS -- he has hit just .228 with a .292 on-base percentage and .714 OPS in 61 games since the start of July.
Franco, benched numerous times this season, has hit .267 with a .745 OPS in that same time, although with a lot fewer at-bats.
Kingery is never going to complain about being in the lineup, but he admitted playing so many different positions can be difficult.
“It’s a challenge and it’s always good to be challenged,” he said. “It was fun to go back into the outfield and play even though I hadn’t been there in four years. It’s kind of the same way now whenever I go back to second base. I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m going back to my old position,’ which I still I believe is my position. Personally, I think it’s my best position, but I haven’t been able to show it because I haven’t had much time there.”
Given his choice, Kingery admitted that someday he’d like a chance to show up at the ballpark and know his name is in the lineup at a set position.
“There is a level of comfort when you are at one position,” he said. “It just kind of calms you down and lets you relax. Whereas if you’re playing a position you might not play a lot your mind is racing when you’re out there on defense and that kind of carries over to the rest of your game.”