WASHINGTON — Scott Kingery returned to the Phillies' lineup here Friday night, and in so doing, continued his big-league education.
It has been nearly six weeks since Kingery signed a six-year, $24 million contract and made the Phillies' roster out of spring training. It has therefore been nearly six weeks since opposing teams began accumulating firsthand data to build a more voluminous scouting report and detail the most effective ways to pitch to the rookie infielder.
"Now," Kingery said, "it's my turn to start to adjust back."
Kingery, who missed one game after being hit by a pitch on his right biceps, has noticed changes in the way he has been pitched since opening day. Some pitchers have tried to sneak a first-pitch curveball by him with the expectation that he would be looking for a fastball. Others have varied their two-strike pitches from one at-bat to the next.
The Phillies have played three series against the Atlanta Braves and faced the same three starting pitchers (Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy) in each one. In the first series, the Braves attacked Kingery with sliders (12 out of 38 pitches). In the second, they went heavier on fastballs, especially four-seamers (16 out of 40 pitches). Last weekend, they went back to their original plan, throwing as many sliders as fastballs (16).
Kingery hit pretty much everything through the season's first two weeks. He went 14-for-50 with seven doubles, two homers, a .540 slugging percentage and an .855 OPS in his first 13 games. Since then, though, he's 6-for-46 with one double, including an 0-for-4 in Friday night's 7-3 loss to the Nationals.
"The first time I faced guys at the very beginning of the season they probably had mostly minor-league footage and film. It was probably tough to kind of see what I swing at, what I don't swing at, what I like," Kingery said. "Once they sort of figured it out, they started attacking those zones. Now I've seen them once, I know how their stuff moves, I know the ways they're trying to pitch me. So now I can go in there and get ready for their plan and start attacking their plan. And then the whole cycle will probably start over again."
Entering Friday night, leadoff man Cesar Hernandez had swung at only 18 percent of pitches out of the strike zone, the third-lowest rate in the majors behind Minnesota's Joe Mauer (14.2) and Cincinnati's Joey Votto (16.2).
"I think it's confidence," manager Gabe Kapler said. "And I think the way it works is, I don't care if I get to two strikes, I don't care if I hit with a strike on me. It doesn't bother me if I take a pitch that I might've been able to drive."
Kapler called Hernandez "one of the more underrated leadoff hitters in baseball." Hernandez was batting .284 with a .406 on-base percentage through 30 games.