BALTIMORE >> They may look like line drives in the boxscore, but the reality was a tad grittier for Scott Kingery Thursday.
The rookie infielder picked up three hits in a 5-4 Phillies win over Baltimore, all to the opposite field, none particularly hard-hit. The objective was less trying to beat the Orioles’ defensive shift and more making the most of what pitchers give him.
“I always try to drive the ball to center field and just try to stay left-center to right-center, not pull everything,” Kingery said. “But that was just taking what I got, to be honest. They weren’t hit very hard, but I’ll take them.”
Kingery fisted a double in the second inning down the right-field line, his 18th of the season, tied for the third-most for a rookie before the All-Star break in Phillies history. He dunked a single in the fourth through the right side with second baseman Jonathan Schoop shifted up the middle. Then he popped a ball into shallow right-center in the fifth which Schoop, playing a more natural second base position, was unable to corral.
“Scott has made some great adjustments in the batter’s box,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He’s allowing the ball to travel a little bit more. We’re seeing him put the ball in the air to the right side. You don’t always have to hit it hard if you have the right trajectory.”
Kingery has focused on that particular skill, letting the ball get deeper on his hands. But defensive shifts are another aspect of big-league life Kingery has grappled with.
Baltimore shifted heavily on his first two at-bats. In his first season in the bigs, his pull rate, per FanGraphs, is actually below that of any of his minor-league stops at 39.7 percent, though his opposite-field percentage (19.6) is also at its lowest. His stats against shifts (.292 average and .655 on-base plus slugging in 48 at-bats) are similar to not shifted (.296 and .679 in 169).
Kingery said he didn’t see many shifts until Triple-A, where he hit .294. His emphasis in the bigs is driving the ball to all fields, and Thursday’s mode of success was aimed at that rather than shift-beating.
“I don’t know that I was trying to beat the shift or anything,” he said. “But something that I was trying to work on was staying back as long as I could so I could lay off some tougher pitches and eventually start driving the ball the other way. I didn’t start driving them the other way, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
With one winning decision dating to May 21 — and that was a one-inning relief appearance on July 1 — Nick Pivetta was looking to recapture some spring glory Thursday night.
With the Orioles largely tripping over themselves on the field and not doing much tripping at the plate, Pivetta found some real relief after going 6⅔ innings, allowing three runs on five hits. That included what Pivetta called a “mistake pitch” to the last batter he faced in the seventh, Trey Mancini. His two-run homer would give the Orioles late life, and a follow-up homer by Jace Peterson off reliever Tommy Hunter’s first pitch in that seventh would get the O’s to within a run.
But then Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and finally Seranthony Dominguez shut them down and gave Pivetta a long-sought starting victory.
“He elevated his game,” manager Gabe Kapler said of Pivetta. “Made better pitches. Had more life on his fastball in the zone.”
Along the way, Pivetta pitched out of trouble in the second inning, overcoming consecutive errors made by Carlos Santana and Kingery.
“Our defense kind of let us down a little bit,” Kapler said. “And in those moments Nick stepped up, stayed composed. He didn’t carry one pitch over into the next, he didn’t carry one play over into the next. Rather, he established his fastball.”
Pivetta went on to get seven strikeouts against only one walk, and almost getting through the seventh until Mancini almost changed the course of the night. But Pivetta didn’t change his mindset the whole time.
“It was bear down, make pitches, see what happens, don’t let it affect you and move forward from there,” Pivetta said. “The last seven starts weren’t the best, but I think I dialed it in right here to get it to the All-Star break (for him). And I think when we come back we’ll have a lot of momentum, and I think it’s going to be positive for us.”
The Phillies rank first in Major League Baseball in pitches seen per plate appearance. Jorge Alfaro is not a reason why.
But nights like Thursday, when he sees only eight pitches in four plate appearances, Alfaro showed that what’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the catcher.
Alfaro tied career-highs with three hits, three RBIs and reached base four times.
Batting ninth, he singled on Kevin Gausman’s first offering of the third inning. Alfaro waited for pitch four to club a two-run double in the fourth. Then he led off the sixth by clobbering the first pitch off the batter’s eye in center for his sixth home run.
“I just tried to calm down and tried to take to the game that I’m doing in the cage,” Alfaro said. “I tried to be patient and tried to breathe and tried to find a pitch that I can hit it hard.”
On the night, the Phillies’ 7-8-9 hitters — Kingery, Aaron Altherr, Alfaro — went 6-for-11 with three RBIs and four runs scored.
Alfaro’s recipe isn’t the same as others in the lineup. He’s next-to-last among nine Phillies regulars in pitches seen per plate appearance at 3.66, well below the league average of 3.91. Rhys Hoskins leads the patience parade at 4.46 pit/PA.
But Alfaro makes it work with one of the lineup’s most powerful swings.
“The one thing we have, we know for sure, is that Alfie can hit the ball hard,” Kapler said. “When he puts it in play, he smokes it. So if we see a little bit more contact, I think yes, he’s a productive offensive player.”
NOTES >> Kapler noted the Phillies arrived in Baltimore at 3:30 in the morning after a night game in New York, from a series in which another rainout makeup was crammed in for Monday’s doubleheader. Thursday was supposed to be an offday, but the schedule-fixers saw it as a good opportunity for the Phillies to make up another rain day. “It’s a challenge and it’s part of being a professional baseball player and it’s part of being in the major leagues,” Kapler said. “Challenging road trips, and who can manage those challenging road trips best?” ... Phillies will start a three-game series in Miami Friday with Jake Arrieta taking on the Marlins’ Wei-Yin Chen.