MILWAUKEE – As Scott Kingery charged a groundball on Friday night at Miller Park, he thought back to a play he made two weeks earlier in Los Angeles.
Kingery, then playing against the Dodgers, moved to his left, made a terrific diving stop, and flipped the ball with his glove to second base for an out. Learning to play shortstop has not been easy for Kingery. But the play he made at Dodger Stadium was one he clung to as he re-learns the position he last played regularly as a high-schooler.
Friday night's play – the one in the second inning of a 13-2 blowout loss to the Brewers – felt the same. Kingery moved to his left after Lorenzo Cain hit a sharp grounder up the middle. he dropped his glove and envisioned flipping the ball to second to start a double play and bail out Jake Arrieta.
The grounder instead went under Kingery's glove and into the outfield. Two runs scored, a five-run inning kept rolling, and a position player would be pitching by the end of the game. It was that kind of night. And for Kingery, it was another bump on his learning curve.
"I am kind of learning on the go, but I don't think putting me out there is unfair to me," Kingery said. "I think it's expected of me to go out there and make plays like that. It's what's expected at the major league level. For me, I expect to make plays like that. It's extremely frustrating for me to not be able to make a play like that for the team and kind of change the course of that game. I expect myself to make those plays."
An inning earlier, Kingery rushed a throw from second and misfired to first base. It was "obviously not his best game on defense," Gabe Kapler said. His two errors were matched by a frustrating start from Jake Arrieta, who lacked command of his fastball as he allowed eight runs – four of which were earned – in 31/3 innings.
"I put up a five-spot in the second inning and it wasn't because of the defense really," Arrieta said. "If there's a play on defense that's not made, it's our job to get the next guy out to pick that guy up. And I didn't do that."
Kingery is at shortstop because that seems to be the lone place to play him if the Phillies want to keep him in the lineup. Maikel Franco hit poorly enough to be relegated to the bench and J.P. Crawford moved from shortstop to third base. Cesar Hernandez, who had three hits Friday, is not being moved from second, the position Kingery played in the minors.
Another option would be to revert Kingery back to the utility role he played early in the season when he seemed to rotate positions on a daily basis. But that is unlikely to happen as Kapler said after the loss that he believes the team's optimal defensive alignment is Kingery at shortstop and Crawford at third.
"I don't think that looking at some struggles – and there has been some struggles from time to time – is the way to analyze this properly," Kapler said. "I think the way to analyze this properly is to say "Is this young man, this young developing athlete Scott Kingery, getting better because of this experience?' I think the answer to that question is 'Yes.' Is he strong mentally, tough physically, and capable of handling this challenge? I think the answer is 'Yes." At the end of the day, do we think that he will be one of our better players for many, many years to come because of this experience? I think the answer is 'Yes.'"
Kingery played almost exclusively at second base since his senior year in college before the Phillies shuffled him around the diamond at the start of the season. He has spent the first months of his rookie season learning different positions while also trying to adjust to major-league pitching. His bat has slumped. Kingery went 2 for 4 on Friday but he is still batting just .219 with a .275 on-base percentage. The two are not related, Kingery said.
"I think you just have to kind of flip the switch between offense and defense," Kingery said. "Sometimes it's tough to do, but it's what you have to do because you can't take what happens on the field into your at-bats. It's not going to do you any good to be thinking about that while you're trying to put the barrel on the ball. For me I try to just flip a switch and get my mind into offensive mode."
The Phillies will remain patient with Kingery as he develops at shortstop. "Stay the course," Kapler said. Kapler, too, remembers the play Kingery made in L.A. It does not make Friday night's errors any less painful. But it gives the manager – and the player – the confidence that Kingery can stay the course.