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Scott Kingery comes out swinging

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As an injury bug tests Phillies depth, the young infielder is unintimidated.

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The 2019 Phillies season started on March 28, and until April 6, Gabe Kapler walked the same lineup card out to the umpires before every game. The Phillies had a shiny new lineup with a lot of interesting new parts, and it worked pretty well. The new Gabe Kapler is less inclined (but I suspect no less interested in) flipping and flopping his lineup based on statistical spasms he finds in the numbers, and he showed that, giving us the longest stretch of regularity we’ve seen in a calendar year.

But, there was always going to be a reason to change things. The series the Phillies just played against the Mets reminded us that no matter who is making the lineup, a true win-now team has to be able to rely on people beyond the starting nine.

It hasn’t reached Yankees-levels of infestation, but a small outbreak of injury bugs has erupted in the Phillies clubhouse. First, there were the warning signs: Bryce Harper took a pitch off the top of his hand, but stayed in a game, and Rhys Hoskins was available only as a pinch hitter after lightly spraining his ankle on a slide into second base.

Then, the real stuff came down. On Monday, the Phillies lost David Robertson to the 10-day Injured List with right elbow soreness. Jean Segura left Tuesday’s game with a tight hamstring, and Odubel Herrera walked out of Wedensday’s rubber match with a leg cramp after running down a fly ball (The Phillies are “not overly concerned” about it).

The team lost Nick Pivetta as well, though that was a voluntary choice to option him to the minors after four starts that offered little encouragement as far as his development on the mound. With Pivetta out, Jerad Eickhoff, who looked intriguingly solid in the four innings he pitched on Tuesday, will get his chance.

Regardless of seriousness, the Phillies have entered the part of the season in which starters they rely on are feeling the wear and tear of baseball. There’s also been some reminders that in a game as inconsistent in tempo and weirdly-angled as baseball, sometimes somebody’s going to bend the wrong way.

Which, for the Phillies, means tapping into that tiny, tiny bench of Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, Andrew Knapp, and Scott Kingery, only one of whom, you might have noticed, is an infielder. As you might know, Kingery is the first back-up for three of the four infield positions, meaning that just about anything happening to anyone in the infield is going to bring him into the game. When Hoskins sat out with his swollen ankle, Maikel Franco shifted to first base, putting Kingery at third. All he did was go 3-for-5 with a home run and five RBI as the Phillies broke the Mets down and kicked the pieces into the sewer.

The next night, playing shortstop, he homered again—and started three double plays—in a game that required both for the Phillies to get their 3-2 win. Kingery has dropped into some playing time late in games for most of the year, but his other two complete games this season came on April 14 against the Marlins (3-for-6 with a double in all 14 innings) and April 8 against the Nationals (3-for-4). He seems to be responding well to exposure.

Enthusiasm is climbing for Kingery, and with the Phillies starting to get hurt, he might get some more playing time; or, if these trends continue, maybe he’ll get some anyway, with Cesar Hernandez struggling at the plate (though Cesar did hit a home run elbow on Wednesday as well).

Segura is going to skip the IL, it looks like, giving Kingery the opening to get even more playing time. On Wednesday against the Mets, that’s exactly what he got, and produced in a big way.

Kingery’s success is great to see, but there is only one of him. One hopes the Phillies’ depth isn’t tested much further. But perhaps Kingery’s playing time factored into the Phillies’ decision to carry a thin bench; they’ve certainly got enough outfielders (for now) to cover a potential rash of injuries, but with Kingery the only nearby infield help, maybe the plan was, when something inevitably happens, Kingery was going to get the freed up playing time. The team had to want to see more of him, given the deal he’s got and the talent that made the Phillies give it to him. They weren’t prepared for him to unseat Cesar, but they were prepared to hand him any infield spot that opened up throughout the season.

Now, Phil Gosselin will be the infield depth, who doesn’t have as curious a role as Kingery, but who gives the Phillies a further back-up plan should the need arise. This brings up the intriguing definition of “depth” on a baseball roster: Is it having enough good players to use a few of them as back-ups, or does it just mean having players who play the same position?

For now, the Phillies are getting quite the production out of their “back-up” infielder. Here’s hoping his opportunities continue, without the Phillies having to shed too much blood.