PHILADELPHIA — The call came 30 minutes before noon Friday, and six hours later, Orion Kerkering played catch at Citizens Bank Park. It was unbelievable. He started this season in the Florida State League and now shares a clubhouse with the major league stars he only played with in MLB The Show. He planned to get a haircut Friday morning. Instead, once he achieved his goal sooner than anyone expected, he called his father to tell him. they did it.
“It’s a very ridiculous moment,” Kerkering, 22, said.
It was the first test in one of the most unusual 10-day tests the Phillies have ever conducted. Kerkering, a powerful pitcher with a slider that generates the highest praise, has a real chance to make the postseason for the Phillies. That wasn’t a consideration until this week when concern about the club’s depth combined with Kerkering’s one appearance at Triple-A Lehigh Valley caused the Phillies to take the leap.
“Well,” manager Rob Thompson said, “I’m hoping he’s a big-impact guy coming out of the bullpen to use his right hand. That’s what I’m hoping for.”
The Phillies will challenge Kerkering, who played at four different levels this season before reaching the major leagues. It’s an unprecedented trajectory in modern MLB history. Since 1992, according to research by Stats Performance, the only player to have played in Low A, High A, Double A, and Triple A in the same season as the MLB postseason was the Yankees’ Jose Contreras in 2003. Contreras was 31 years old . year.
this is different. This is not only a test of Kirkering’s temper, but of his mind as well. The Phillies think that’s special, too, and it’s clear when Kerkering talks. He owns a 1.51 ERA with a 38 percent strikeout rate and a 6 percent walk rate in 53 2/3 minor league innings. Why does he think he had the season he had?
“I didn’t care at that point,” Kerkering said. “I don’t really care about stats. When you talk to some guys during the year, it’s like their goals are very specific. So, not caring about what happens. Just caring in the moment. Whatever happens will happen.”
That’s something Bryce Harman, the Phillies area scout who recommended Kerkering, remembers well. Kerkering bounced between roles at the University of South Florida. He was the best as an assistant, but many scouts did not get a consistent look at Kerkering. The slider was the first impression.
The rest, you had to see.
“He’s always on the attack and doesn’t back down,” Harman said Friday. “Even when he was in college, he wanted to close the door and shut down games. He has that kind of mentality.”
But even that can’t explain how the A’s fifth-round pick moved to the majors one year after being drafted. Kerkering caught a wave and rode it farther, farther than anyone would suggest.
“I’m here now, and there’s a reason I’m here,” Kerkering said.
Until this year, Kerkering had not been a full-time respite. Brian Kaplan, the club’s director of pitching development, was among those who recommended the Phillies commit to Kerkering in the bullpen from the start of spring training. It’s where he belongs, in Kaplan’s mind.
Kerkering took on this role. “I would say he’s definitely been on the radar since the first game I saw him in spring training at the minor league complex,” Phillies coach Caleb Cotham said. Kerkering were at A level by the second week of May. But no one wants to be accused of over-inflating a child at the first ball. Respected evaluators who went to see Kerkering show and reported that he had stuff that could put out big-league hitters. now They were met with raised eyebrows.
Kerkering was in Double A at the beginning of July. That’s when Cotham began dissecting a video of each Kerkering outing.
“When you watch him, he looks like a top player,” Cotham said. “I mean there’s a lot of hits. The slider is one of the best pitches in baseball.
“I mean, obviously the movement is incredible,” Cotham said. “It’s hard. I’ve got a delayed break visually which is not typical with a lot of cleaners. So it’s a tough sweeper but it breaks after a little while. It’s sharp. But the biggest thing is just being able to throw a strike. I mean it’s as good as it gets. Because “It’s really hard on those pitches. It’s really hard to land in the zone. And his skill getting into the zone is as good as anyone’s. I mean he commanded (Aaron) Nola to curveball with a sweeper as a reliever, which is not natural.”
Kerkering will be the first Phillies player to make his big league debut a year after being drafted since Nola in 2015. The last Phillies player to make his MLB debut in September and appear in the postseason for that year was Marty Bystrom in 1980.
Kerkering’s promotion was felt Friday throughout the entire organization. He’s had more teammates this season than anyone with the Phillies’ bullpen. He has worked with every coach in Little League. It was a source of pride for Harman, an area scout whose first player reached the major leagues. Many different people had a role – big and small – in helping Kirking achieve this remarkable ascent.
He heard from many of them.
“It’s weird to see all the guys congratulating me,” Kerkering said. “It’s like going back and forth packing all my stuff and hearing my phone ringing all the time. It’s non-stop. I feel bad for not responding to texts right away.”
Kerkering attended Game 3 of last year’s World Series. His uncle said he knew a man who could score tickets. Kerkering only had to cover the cost of the airfare. “That’s easy,” he said. “it’s all over.” He brought his father and his girlfriend with him. They sat upstairs.
He imagined what it would be like to play on that stage.
“Definitely last year, I was sitting there, ‘How great would it be to play here,’” Kerkering said. “Obviously in two or three years. The forecast was always like 2025 or something. And now it’s two years into that. You never know what it’s going to be like in the future. Seize every moment while you can.”
The Phillies need another reliable righty in the bullpen outside of Craig Kimbrel. They’re unsure about Ceranthony Dominguez, who has looked nothing like a dominant reliever since last season. They are confident in Jeff Hoffman, but another option with big things like Kerkering can’t hurt.
Thompson would like to show Kerkering three or four times before the season ends. The Phillies need to know if he can handle this. But they wouldn’t have promoted Kerkering if they didn’t think he had a good chance of success. He may not be at the top of the bullpen depth chart in October, but he could be useful.
“I know I’m still young and new to everything,” Kerkering said. “I know the possibility (of making the postseason) might not be there. But it’s always there. You never know. You can’t worry about outside things. Everything is going to happen for a reason. If you start thinking about it, you’re going to push harder.” “Keep moving forward.”
That’s all Kerkering did for six months.
(Top photo of Orion Kerkering throwing before Friday’s Mets-Phillies game: Matt Slocum/Associated Press)
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