Phillies' trio with much to prove gets off to solid start

February 24th, 2024

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Phillies manager Rob Thomson has seen enough games at TD Ballpark to know crazy things happen here.

He pointed to left field, where he has seen outfielders twisted like pretzels.

“This is Satan’s Corner down here,” Thomson said following Saturday’s 14-13 victory over the Blue Jays in the Grapefruit League opener. “I’m telling you, I’ve seen Gold Glovers come down here in Spring Training and it’s impossible sometimes.”

The Phillies scored 10 runs in the fifth inning. The Blue Jays scored six in the final five to make it close.

A few notable happenings:

Johan Rojas
The Phillies want Rojas to be their Opening Day center fielder, but he must earn it.

He went 2-for-4 with a triple, three RBIs and two strikeouts in his spring debut. He struck out swinging on a 2-2 slider off the plate in the first inning, reached on an infield single in the second and struck out looking in the fourth before hitting a two-run triple in the fifth. Thomson gave Rojas a fourth at-bat because he wanted to give him a chance to end the day on a good note.

“I was swinging at strikes,” Rojas said through the team’s interpreter. “That’s something I’ve been working on. It got results, so I feel extremely happy.”

Scott Kingery
It surprised some people to learn in November that Kingery, 29, would remain with the Phillies, even after they exercised a $1 million buyout on a $13 million club option for 2024.

“I got caught by surprise a little bit, too,” Kingery said. “I’m still not even sure what the rule is. I think I reverted back to the Minor League contract I signed out of the University of Arizona [in 2015].”

In fact, Kingery did not have enough Minor League service time to become a free agent. So he is back, hoping to work his way into an in-season promotion. Kingery started in left field on Saturday and went 2-for-3. He hit a two-run homer to center in the second and singled to right-center in the fifth.

“It’s just, ‘Go out there and play baseball,’ taking it to a point where it can be as simple as possible,” Kingery said. “Just go out and show that I can play some good baseball. I guess there’s not as much pressure anymore. It’s just really good to get back out here with these guys and take the approach of show 'em what you can do."

Kingery has only 19 plate appearances with the Phillies since 2020, which was the third year of his six-year, $24 million deal. He has not been on the 40-man roster since June 2022, when he was outrighted to Triple-A. Kingery spent last year with Lehigh Valley, batting .244 with 13 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .725 OPS.

Weston Wilson
Wilson hit a two-run homer in the second, the Phillies’ first homer of the spring. He doubled in the fifth.

Wilson, who is on the 40-man roster, could be considered a dark horse candidate to make the team.

Whit Merrifield, Edmundo Sosa and Garrett Stubbs are ticketed for three of the four bench jobs. The Phillies might want a left-handed hitter or a true outfielder for the last spot. Outfielder Jake Cave hits left-handed. Fellow outfielder Cristian Pache hits right-handed, but he is a brilliant defender. Both are out of Minor League options.

“We can look at it a bunch of different ways with that last guy,” Thomson said. “Do you want a true center fielder? Do you want a right-handed bat? A left-handed bat? Do you want a guy who can come off the bench and steal a base? Toward the end [of camp], we’ll sit down and figure out the best way to go, because there’s some guys we’re going to lose if they don’t make the club. We’ve got to factor that in, too.”

Opening Day or not, Wilson could see time with the Phillies at some point.

“No doubt about it,” Thomson said. “He can play almost any position, except catcher. He swings the bat. He’s a 30-30 guy in Triple-A last year. He can run, too.”

The Phillies think they will have improved starting pitching depth behind No. 5 starter Cristopher Sánchez. A few of those guys pitched Saturday: Left-hander Kolby Allard allowed three runs in two innings, right-hander Nick Nelson allowed four runs in two innings and right-hander Dylan Covey allowed two runs in one inning.

Allard and Nelson have options remaining. Covey, who is competing for a bullpen job as a long man, does not.

“It takes a lot of guys to win a World Series,” Allard said.

The Phillies used 11 starters last season. They haven’t used fewer than 10 since 2014, when they used nine.