To anybody who wondered how the Phillies could possibly overcome losing two-thirds of their opening-day outfield in the span of one week, let it be said that the solution came straight out of left field.
Center field, too.
Jay Bruce and Scott Kingery have stepped into the breach and filled in so well for these last two weeks that the Phillies have hardly missed Andrew McCutchen and Odubel Herrera. Bruce and Kingery have been the toughest outs in the lineup and hauled in just about everything they were supposed to catch in the outfield.
And they did all of the above Tuesday night in a 7-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks before an announced crowd of 26,321 at CItizens Bank Park.
Kingery slugged his third home run in the last two games, a three-run shot in the second inning to stake the Phillies to an early lead, while Bruce notched two more hits, including an RBI single in the fifth inning, and made a diving catch to save two runs in the third inning. Together they helped Jake Arrieta earn his first victory since May 25 and only his second since the end of April.
Where would the Phillies be without them?
Not still battling the Braves for first place in the National League East, that’s for sure.
“I’d like to start on the development of Scott Kingery and how far he’s come in one calendar year,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We’re now kind of expecting good, quality plate appearances from him every time he walks up to the plate. He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone. When he gets a pitch to hit, he’s doing damage or taking a great swing and fouling a pitch back. He’s really starting to develop into a quality center fielder.”
Indeed, the contrast to last season is remarkable. One of the worst hitters in the majors as a rookie last season, he leads the team with a .630 slugging percentage and .995 OPS. He has seven homers in 112 plate appearances, one shy of his total from 484 plate appearances last season.
Kingery also looks so at ease in center field that it’s easy to forget he has been playing out of position since Herrera was arrested on domestic assault charges at an Atlantic City casino on Memorial Day, McCutchen suffered a season-ending knee injury seven days later, and rookie Adam Haseley landed on the injured list with a groin strain only a few days after being rushed to the majors.
“I had an opportunity to [play center field] last year and it was weird for me, something I’ve never done,” Kingery said. “This year, being able to do it again, I’d already had a full year of it, so it felt a lot more comfortable being able to come in and get switched around.”
Bruce, meanwhile, has been a hit machine since the Phillies acquired him from the Seattle Mariners for a middling prospect on June 2, one day before McCutchen got hurt. The 32-year-old veteran, who has inspired chants of “Bruuuuuuce” at home after every hit and catch, has taken over in left field and hit in all but one of eight games for the Phillies, going 11-for-29 with five homers and 13 RBI.
Kingery’s homer opened a 3-0 lead, while Bruce’s single made it 6-3. But Bruce’s biggest play came in the third inning when he saved two runs with a diving catch in left field.
With the Phillies leading 4-0, the Diamondbacks had two on with one out when Ketel Marte hit a sinker off the end of his bat and into shallow left field. Bruce, known more for his offense than his glove, closed on the ball, extended his right arm, dove and caught it.
It was the kind of play that Bruce promised Kapler he could make if given the chance.
“He was emphatic that he can play the outfield,” Kapler said. “He can play it well. He will make good throws. He will get good jumps. He’s done all of that and then some.”
After getting hit hard in each of his previous two starts, Arrieta had to work hard for six innings. He gave up six hits and four walks, had only one clean inning, and threw 105 pitches. Yet he walked off the mound with a 6-3 lead in tow after Tim Locastro’s bid for a game-tying homer landed in Bruce’s glove on the warning track in left field in the sixth inning.
Relievers J.D. Hammer, Juan Nicasio and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings, with Neris recording his 14th save in as many chances.
But as saves go, none has been bigger than what Bruce and Kingery have meant to the outfield.