ALLENTOWN, Pa. — One look around spacious Coca-Cola Park told Scott Kingery one thing: This wasn’t Reading anymore, Toto.
“It looks like you can get one out to left,” the newest member of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs said late Monday afternoon, “but it looks real deep to center.”
It was time for the 23-year-old second baseman to recalibrate, time for one of the Phillies’ brightest prospects to get his bearings before continuing a climb that now finds him nearing the major-league summit.
Kingery, the Phils’ second-round pick in 2015, was promoted from Double A Reading on Sunday, after his torrid start attracted the attention of not only management but also a fanbase looking to latch onto something — anything — with the parent club struggling and regular second baseman Cesar Hernandez injured.
But everything in its time.
“I just try to block [the clamor] out the best I can,” Kingery said before making his Triple A debut against Pawtucket. “I know what I'm capable of and I know what I need to improve on. Wherever I'm at, I'm going to come out here and try to work on whatever I think I need to improve on and to give myself the best shot to get moved up.”
He went 1 for 5 with a steal and two spectacular defensive plays in the IronPigs’ 5-4, 10-inning loss on Monday night, after batting .313 with 18 homers and 44 RBIs in 69 games at Reading. And his one-day-at-a-time approach comes as no surprise to manager Dusty Wathan, who also had him late last season with the Fightin Phils.
“He’s a guy that doesn’t change much,” Wathan said. “He’s really calm — not real high, not real low, much like (Lehigh Valley first baseman) Rhys Hoskins is.”
Wathan recalled Kingery’s struggles late last season — he wound up hitting .250 in 37 games for Reading, after moving up from Single A Clearwater — and how he handled it.
“You didn’t see the huge frustration or anything like that out of him,” the manager said. “I think he just embraced it and said this is what it is: ‘I’m a better player than this.’ He knew where he was at that time.”
Kingery was worn to a frazzle by season’s end — he lost 10 pounds, he said — and Wathan knew it. He nonetheless continued to play him “because,” the manager said, “I wanted him to feel that.”
“It's a good thing to have failure,” he added, “to feel that first season, to see how things end up for you.”
Kingery, listed at 5-10 and 180 pounds, said he gained back the 10 pounds he lost via offseason weight work, and that he tinkered with his swing as well. That contributed to his power surge after he managed just eight homers in 197 games over his first two minor-league seasons.
So too did the dimensions of FirstEnergy Stadium, Reading’s cozy home park.
“Everybody talks about the Reading factor, but to me it's probably only a couple home runs [each season],” Wathan said.
Kingery had 10 homers in 36 home games and eight in 33 on the road. He hit just one in his last 20 games at Reading, none in his last 11.
“I’m turning back into a singles guy,” he said.
But a hitter, to be sure. He batted .359 in his last 33 games at Double A to raise his average from .272 to .313. And on Sunday, he was summoned to the office of Reading manager Greg Legg, who delivered the good news.
Kingery’s dad, Tom, had already heard; he tried to call his son repeatedly. So too had some other relatives.
So there he was on Monday. He singled in his first at-bat, and twice victimized Pawtucket third baseman Matt Dominguez with the glove, making a diving catch of his second-inning flare to short right and then backhanding Dominguez’s grounder up the middle in the sixth.
The first gem made SportsCenter. As for Kingery, he just keeps making steady progress toward the summit.