Scott Kingery cannot fix his swing in the big leagues, so the Phillies sent him to Triple-A.
They made the announcement on Sunday afternoon before their second-to-last Grapefruit League game in Clearwater, Fla. It came as something of a surprise, although there were indications in recent weeks the Phillies were open to optioning him. The organization also optioned left-hander JoJo Romero to Minor League camp, which leaves the Phillies with only one left-hander in their eight-man bullpen.
“Scott has been working hard to make some swing adjustments,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said after a 6-2 victory over the Yankees at BayCare Ballpark. “He’s made some progress, but we think there’s more progress to be made and he’s worked really hard. We really have a lot of belief in Scott Kingery. We’re just trying to get him back to where he’s a line drives-doubles hitter that runs into some home runs and uses the whole field."
Nobody could have imagined Kingery in this spot just three years ago. He dazzled everybody in Spring Training 2018. Former manager Gabe Kapler pushed hard for him to make the Opening Day roster. Former Phillies general manager Matt Klentak made it happen when he signed Kingery to a six-year, $24 million contract before he ever played an inning in the big leagues. But after three up-and-down seasons in which he often hopped around the infield and outfield with irregular playing time, Kingery came to camp hoping to return to his roots. He wanted to ditch his uppercut swing and utilize his speed.
The Phillies hoped he could be their everyday center fielder.
Kingery batted .159 (7-for-44) with three doubles, one home run, four walks, 19 strikeouts and a .525 OPS this spring. He quickly fell behind center-field candidates Odúbel Herrera (.755 OPS in 50 at-bats), Roman Quinn (.788 OPS in 35 at-bats) and Adam Haseley (.833 OPS in 16 at-bats). By the end of camp, Kingery simply hoped to make the team as a utility player. Instead, Girardi told non-roster invitee Ronald Torreyes that he made the team, taking Kingery’s spot. It leaves Herrera, Quinn and Haseley competing for the final two spots on the roster. Herrera is considered a favorite to win a job, despite not being on the 40-man roster. Quinn is out of options, which will be a consideration.
“I still believe that he’s going to have a big impact for us,” Girardi said about Kingery. “I believe he’s an All-Star. If he gets back to the way that he was hitting before, I believe he can be an All-Star.”
Romero had a 1.04 ERA in 8 2/3 innings, striking out eight and allowing nine hits, one run and four walks. He pitched well. But after Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told The Athletic on Saturday in Lakeland, Fla., that right-hander Vince Velasquez made the eight-man bullpen, it essentially left Romero and right-handers Sam Coonrod and David Hale competing for the final two jobs.
Hale, like Velasquez, had no options remaining and can pitch multiple innings, which gave him an edge because the Phillies lack starting pitching depth in the organization.
It left Romero vs. Coonrod, who has a 1.08 ERA in 8 1/3 innings, striking out eight and allowing three hits, one run and three walks.
“JoJo has a chance to be an elite reliever,” Girardi said. “But I think he has to be more economical [with his pitches]. I think he has to get ahead some more. He’s got really, really good stuff. He’s got three swing-and-miss pitches, but I think there’s still a little bit more that he can do with his command to put him in better positions to be successful.”
After the Phillies released left-hander Tony Watson on Friday, it leaves José Alvarado as the only lefty in the bullpen. The rest of the bullpen includes right-handers Héctor Neris, Archie Bradley, Connor Brogdon, Brandon Kintzler, Coonrod, Velasquez and Hale. Girardi is not concerned about having only one lefty in the bullpen because he believes pitchers like Neris, Bradley and Brogdon can neutralize left-handed batters.
The Phillies also optioned catcher Rafael Marchan and reassigned catcher Rodolfo Duran and outfielder Travis Jankowski to Minor League camp. They released catcher Christian Bethancourt.