Kerkering expected a callup in a few years -- then, his phone rang

September 23rd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

’s uncle had a connection, so he got him tickets to Game 3 of the 2022 World Series.

Third deck, third row.

“A cool moment seeing it from up top,” Kerkering said before the Phillies’ 10-inning 5-4 victory over the Mets at Citizens Bank Park on Friday. “Seeing all the home runs.”

That night, Kerkering, 22, imagined himself on the mound.

“Obviously in, like, two or three years,” he said. “Always the projections were, like, 2025 or whatever.”

But then Kerkering got a phone call at 11:30 a.m. on Friday. He’d been promoted to the big leagues, which would make him the first player drafted by the Phillies to make his MLB debut in the following season since Aaron Nola in 2015.

Kerkering got promoted now because the Phillies believe their No. 7 prospect can help them in the postseason as a right-handed reliever.

If it happens, he will become the first Phillies pitcher to make his MLB debut in September and appear in a postseason game since Marty Bystrom in 1980. All-Star Craig Kimbrel and Jeff Hoffman have pitched well this year, but right-hander Seranthony Domínguez has struggled. Right-hander Michael Lorenzen recorded only one out in his only relief appearance earlier this week.

Kerkering could be a surprise option.

“I hope he’s a high-leverage guy coming out of the bullpen for a right-handed pocket,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said about Kerkering. “That’s what I hope.”

Kerkering is eligible for the postseason, because he was in the organization before Aug. 31. However, he wasn’t on the 40-man roster before that date, which means he would make the postseason roster only as a replacement for a rostered player who suffers an injury. For example, if the Phillies want Kerkering on the National League Wild Card Series roster, he can make the team because Rhys Hoskins is on the 60-day injured list.

(It is almost a certainty Hoskins will not be on the NL Wild Card Series roster.)

“Pretty absurd moment,” Kerkering said about the call. “I didn't think anything could happen, just because it was Triple-A for three days and I get that call. So, really weird and different.”

The Phillies selected Kerkering in the fifth round of the 2022 Draft. He started this season in Single-A Clearwater, striking out 18 and walking one in 10 1/3 scoreless innings over nine appearances. Kerkering then dominated in High-A Jersey Shore and Double-A Reading before he got promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Sept. 18.

He made one appearance with the IronPigs.

“My goal [this season] was just get to Double-A, and that was my end goal,” Kerkering said.

Kerkering is here because he throws hard and he has what many believe is one of the best sliders in baseball.

Not just the Minor Leagues. All of baseball.

“I mean, obviously the movement is incredible,” Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cotham said.

“It's hard. It's got visually the late break that isn't typical with a lot of sweepers. So it's a sweeper that's hard but breaks a little bit later. It's sharp. But the biggest thing, it's just the strike-throwing ability. It's as good as it gets. Because it's really tough on those pitches -- that's the bugaboo on sweepers that move as much as that pitch does. It's really tough landing it in the zone. And his skill to land that in the zone is as good as anybody's. It's a Nola curveball command with a sweeper as a reliever, which just isn't that normal.”

Thomson said Kerkering has been on his radar since maybe the second month of the season, when the big league skipper kept reading glowing reports about the youngster. Cotham said Kerkering caught his eye during the first bullpen he watched him throw at the Carpenter Complex this spring.

“But I'd say more in the last month or so,” Cotham said. “He got to Double-A, I started watching every outing, staying plugged in. [Assistant pitching coach Brian Kaplan] has been really helpful on the integration side, the physical side, the makeup and mentality. And then watching his outings, it looks like a big-leaguer. I mean, it's a lot of strikes. It's one of the better pitches in baseball.”

Orion is Kerkering’s middle name, by the way. His first name is Richard. 

“My grandpa was Richard John,” Kerkering said. “My dad is Richard Todd. I'm Richard Orion. So we always go by our middle names. That's why I've always been Orion. They just liked the name a lot.

“Unique name, keep it different from everyone else.”