There might be a German word for the way Scott Kingery has been feeling lately, but the Phillies rookie is American, and so he made one up in English. Hitterish, he said. He has been feeling hitterish.
From his team’s perspective, this qualifies as a good thing, because hitterish is a positive state of being, and the Phillies are currently a squad in need of a few positive developments at the plate. On Sunday, they spent much of their afternoon waiting around for a big hit that would not come, twice coming up empty with a runner in scoring position and less than two out before plating three in the sixth. Even then, the result felt less than fulfilling, their four consecutive one-out singles resulting in a run total that was little more than the mathematical minimum.
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In other words, a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays didn’t feel much different than the way things have felt for the last couple of weeks or so, the exception being the loss. But, then, a team that does not score runs is going to lose at some point, and the Phillies have been scoring less than 3.5 of them per game over their last 13. That they have won seven of those games is an impressive feat, but it’s also the sort of thing that is tough to sustain throughout a season.
As Kingery stood at his locker after Sunday’s loss, he did so as a fitting embodiment of the Phillies’ offense. A few minutes earlier, Gabe Kapler had put that embodiment in verbal form, saying, “If Kingery is going good offensively and defensively, we’re going to have a chance to win a lot of baseball games.” The “if,” of course, is the thing, not only at shortstop but up and down a lineup with a number of players who have never gone through a full big-league season. Kingery has played 45 games in the big leagues, a fraction of the time that it took some really good players to figure it out. Or take Rhys Hoskins, who on Sunday went 0-for-4 and saw his batting line fall to a surprisingly pedestrian .234/.367/.415. Hoskins has seen his OPS plummet nearly 300 points during his month-long slump. Except, with a baseline of just 100 games to work from, how do we know it is really a slump?
And yet …
Your eyes tell you that these are good hitters, that Kingery and Hoskins have too much command in the batter’s box to not eventually find their groove. Memorial Day is not the time to look at numbers. Clayton Kershaw had a 4.32 ERA a few Memorial Days ago. He ended up third in the Cy Young voting with a 2.13 ERA. They are part of a lineup that is drawing walks at the second-best rate in the majors, and is seeing an average of 4.07 pitches per plate appearances, second most in the game. They have an approach.
In a way, this is what Kingery was saying after Sunday’s loss to the Blue Jays. He’d entered the day with just three extra-base hits in his last 103 trips to the plate. During that stretch, he was hitting just .189 with a .252 OBP and a .484 OPS. He hadn’t hit a home run since he did it in back-to-back games in early April. After averaging 4.35 pitches per appearance in his first 26 games, he’d averaged just 3.12 since.
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The loss to the Blue Jays wasn’t the breakout he’d been waiting for — he went 1-for-4 with a leadoff double in the fifth — but he again had felt himself settling into a groove at the plate. He felt balanced, in command, comfortable in his approach. He felt like a hitter, which is not how he felt earlier in his struggles.
“It’s been a process, kind of cracking out of that slump,” said Kingery, who also displayed impressive reaction time and athleticism in the eighth inning while diving to snap a sharp one-hopper and then popping to his feet to beat the runner to first with his throw. “I feel more hitterish now, and just kind of back to normal. For me right now, it’s all about feel. It’s not about results for me now, it’s more about feel at the plate and just having good at-bats.”
Yet results are important because that is what they use to determine wins and losses. If you are the Phillies, you are not foolish to think that they will be coming along soon. There are a lot of legitimate questions about this team, and whether the rotation and the bullpen are capable of contending for a division title. But the offense should be fine. If anything, their ability to win games without hitting up to potential makes you wonder what will look like if the bats really do break out.