Never mind that the Phillies committed three errors, all on wayward throws. Or that they struck out 11 times, the eighth time in nine games that they reached double digits in whiffs. Or that starter Jake Arrieta walked in a run with the bases loaded.
One big swing by Aaron Altherr — against Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke, no less — erased all of it.
Altherr crushed a three-run homer to straightaway center field in the sixth inning Wednesday night, and the Phillies rallied for a 5-3 victory over the team with the best record in the National League, setting up a matinee rubber game today at Citizens Bank Park. Considering the Diamondbacks are the first 2017 playoff team that the Phils have faced, it represented a strong retort after an 8-4 loss Tuesday night.
“We know the schedule will get tougher as we go, but we can only play who’s on the schedule and our guys have done a great job of winning games and battling,” general manager Matt Klentak said before the game. “We’ve had some lopsided wins and we’ve had some games where we really had to battle and grind and fight and claw to come up with a ‘W,’ and they’ve done that.”
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Is Kingery’s versatility a value or a vice?
In the late ’80s, former St. Louis Cardinals utilityman Jose Oquendo started at least one game at seven positions in the same season. Ben Zobrist, a three-time All-Star, has made at least 150 starts at four positions throughout his career. Miami’s Martin Prado, Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison and Boston’s Brock Holt routinely shuttle between the infield and outfield.
So, no, what Scott Kingery is doing for the Phillies isn’t nearly unprecedented.
But when you consider that Kingery has played all of 20 games in the big leagues and has already been used at six positions — he has played the same position in back-to-back games only once — it’s fairly remarkable.
“He’s very comfortable wherever he is on the field,” Klentak said, “and that’s what he tells us as well.”
Indeed, Kingery’s versatility helped win him a spot on the Phillies roster. It helped, too, that the 23-year-old rookie starred in spring training, and he surely wouldn’t have been with the team on opening day if he hadn’t signed a six-year, $24 million contract. But Kingery’s ability to play all over the field at a time when the Phillies still have second baseman Cesar Hernandez and third baseman Maikel Franco gave manager Gabe Kapler reason to believe he could contribute.
It’s worth wondering, though, with Kingery mired in a 2-for-24 funk with 12 strikeouts, whether bouncing from position to position has been a hindrance. On Tuesday, for instance, Kingery took fly balls in right field before batting practice, in addition to going through his typical pregame preparation.
“I think with certain players that’s possible. We have not seen it with Scott,” Klentak said. “I think the thing with Kingery is he’s a rookie in the big leagues. He had a great spring and a great start to the season, and there’s a lot of advance scouts from other teams watching a lot of video and studying some trends, and they’re making adjustments to him and he will now have to make the adjustment back. And everything in his history suggests that he will, probably quickly. But we have not sensed where he plays on the field is impacting anything at the plate.”
After struggling through the season’s first three weeks, Altherr has six hits in his last 14 at-bats, including a walkoff single in the 11th inning last Sunday. What’s been the difference? A session with assistant hitting coach Pedro Guerrero might have turned Altherr’s season around, as Matt Breen writes.
If you were wowed by Arrieta’s 10-strikeout, one-hit masterpiece against the Pittsburgh Pirates last week, well, Bob Brookover writes that there was something even more impressive about seeing him grind through seven innings against the Diamondbacks despite not having his best control. Consider it a reminder of why Arrieta has been regarded as one of the best pitchers in the game over the past few years.
At a time when the Phillies are striking out in more than 25 percent of their plate appearances, nobody has been a bigger whiffer than catcher Jorge Alfaro, who has 24 punchouts in only 47 at-bats. But as much as Alfaro might be pressing at the plate, he’s taking satisfaction from what the Phillies believe to be improved defense behind the plate.
Today: Log on to Facebook, the only way to watch the Phils-D’backs finale, 1:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: The Braves — and phenom Ronald Acuna Jr. — come to town, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: Happy birthday, Phillie Phanatic, 1:35 p.m.
Monday: Phillies open a three-game series in Miami, 7:10 p.m.
Stat of the day
Aaron Nola hasn’t allowed more than two runs and six hits in any of his last eight starts dating to last September. Over the past 50 years, only 13 National League pitchers have put together a longer streak of similar starts. As a member of the Cubs, Arrieta once went 14 consecutive starts without giving up more than two runs and six hits. Nola, scheduled to start Friday night’s series opener against the Braves, could join Carlos Zambrano, Masato Yoshii, Hideo Nomo, Don Sutton and Sandy Koufax in the group of NL pitchers who have made nine such starts in a row.
From the mailbag
“When can we expect Leiter Jr. to come north and join the team? Will the club explore a 6-man rotation?” — emailed question from Bob Haas
Answer: Of the three injured Phillies pitchers, reliever Pat Neshek (shoulder) probably will be the first to be reinstated from the disabled list, according to Klentak. Mark Leiter Jr. (forearm) appears to be ahead of Jerad Eickhoff (lat strain), although Leiter’s return could be determined by his role. If he comes back as a starter, he would need more time to build arm strength. That said, it seems Ben Lively would have to struggle or there would need to be an injury to create a rotation spot for Leiter. We all know manager Gabe Kapler is progressive, but a six-man rotation doesn’t seem likely.