Orion's star rising fast as ST approaches

January 21st, 2024

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.

Like his teammates,  took a break from baseball after the Phillies' season ended in October.

It lasted only a few days.

“I was like, I need to go do something,” Kerkering said Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

So, Kerkering got back in the gym. Then, he started thinking about his sinker. Kerkering -- ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Phillies' No. 7 prospect -- used a dominant slider-fastball combination to jump four levels from Single-A Clearwater to the Phillies in only a few months in 2023. He pitched in a postseason before he participated in his first big league Spring Training, which he'll enjoy next month.

Kerkering, 22, is not guaranteed a spot on the Phillies’ Opening Day roster, but it would be absolutely surprising if he did not earn one. There are five locks for the bullpen: left-handers José Alvarado, Gregory Soto and Matt Strahm; and right-handers Seranthony Domínguez and Jeff Hoffman.

Kerkering slides just below them.

That’s how much the Phillies like and need him in 2024.

“He’s way up on my list as far as his talent level and where he stands in that bullpen,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said.

Kerkering enjoyed successes and failures in his few weeks in the bullpen last year. He pitched well in three regular-season appearances and his first four postseason appearances before struggling in the National League Championship Series.

Kerkering said he learned from it. He hopes it makes him better.

“I’ve thought about it a lot,” he said. “Just kind of going back and looking at old mistakes. I even go back and look at all my Minor League mistakes. It’s like, 'OK, I did it this way. I didn’t pitch that well.' Or, 'I left a pitch up.' I just look at it that way and try not to overthink it. In the moment, after the game, you go look, and your emotions are still there. But it’s always one pitch or a couple pitches that weren’t there. That’s all it was.”

Kerkering said he hopes more emphasis and work on his sinker will help him be more effective with his slider moving right to left and his sinker moving left to right.

“Just work east and west so guys' eyes … are looking out and in,” he said.