ATLANTA — Orion Kerkering doesn’t seem to notice the difference. Six months ago, he was pitching before a few thousand fans in the Florida State League. Now, on baseball’s biggest stage, he’s tossing crucial innings out of the bullpen for the Phillies.
Surely it must seem a bit overwhelming?
“Just kind of go with it,” Kerkering said nonchalantly. “Be where you’re at. Kind of have fun with it.”
The 22-year-old right-hander’s speedy climb from Class A on up has been on prominent display in the first two rounds of the postseason.
Kerkering, a fifth-round draft pick from South Florida in 2022, breezed through a scoreless inning in the series-clinching win over Miami in the wild card round. He produced another 1-2-3 frame against the big-hitting Atlanta Braves in a 3-0 victory to start the NL Division Series.
Just like that, the kid who started the season pitching for the Clearwater Threshers has become an integral member of a deep, hard-throwing bullpen that could set up another lengthy playoff run for the Phillies.
“He’s a stud,” teammate Aaron Nola said. “His stuff is electric. His fastball, his slider, obviously everybody knows. He looks like he’s been here for five years. He doesn’t look like he gets overwhelmed on the mound. He’s got a lot of confidence, and you can see that.”
A quick recap of Orion rising through the Phillies’ farm system:
His season began with nine dominant appearances for Class A Clearwater, where he hurled 10.1 scoreless innings, allowed just two hits, walked one and struck out 18.
After a promotion to Jersey Shore of the High-A South Atlantic League, it was more of the same. Kerkering worked 20.1 innings over 18 games, surrendering four runs and 13 hits, with six walks and 27 strikeouts.
As the summer heated up, Kerkering kept moving up. His numbers at Reading of the Double-A Eastern League continued to impress: 21 appearances, 22 innings, five runs, five walks and 33 strikeouts.
There was time before the end of the minor league season to throw one scoreless inning for Lehigh Valley of the Triple-A International League. That gave Kerkering a dazzling cumulative line of 49 games, 53. 2 innings, a 4-1 record, 14 saves, a 1.51 ERA, 12 walks and 79 strikeouts.
The Phillies had seen enough. With 10 days left in the regular season and Philadelphia closing in on a wild-card berth, Kerkering was called up to the big leagues. He fit right in.
Kerkering picked up his first MLB win, allowed only a single unearned run in three appearances, and showed off his dominant repertoire with six strikeouts. It was enough to persuade the Phillies that he deserved a sport on the postseason roster.
No situation seems too daunting for this laid-back kid.
“Keep every moment the same no matter, whether we’re up seven or down seven or tie ball game,” Kerkering said. “Just keep it the same mojo.”
With Kerkering in the mix, the Phillies have assembled a deep, versatile bullpen that seems perfectly suited to the postseason.
In Game 1 against the Braves, a modern day Murderers’ Row that tied the major league record with 307 homers and led all teams with 947 runs, the Phillies yanked starter Ranger Suárez after he allowed just a single hit through 3.1 innings.
Then came a wave of relievers, all of them seemingly throwing harder than the last guy.
Jeff Hoffman. Seranthony Dominguez. Jose Alvarado. Kerkering. Matt Strahm. Craig Kimbrel.
The mighty Braves managed just five hits, all singles. It was only the third time they’ve been shut out this season, the first since May 12. It was the first time all season they’ve been blanked on their home field.
“Just keep going no matter how many guys it takes, one guy or six guys,” Kerkering said. “Just keep building that energy off each other.”
Showing how much confidence they have in the rookie, the Phillies left Kerkering on the mound after a perfect seventh inning to face MVP favorite Ronald Acuña Jr. starting the eighth.
“Just follow the scouting report, what they tell you, and don’t think too much about it,” Kerkering said.
He just missed with four straight pitches — two of them 98 mph sinkers, the other two 86 mph sweepers — putting Acuña aboard.
The Phillies turned to Strahm, who got into a first-and-third jam but escaped when shortstop Trea Turner made a diving stop that turned into an inning-ending double play.
“Super exciting moment,” Kerkering said, barely showing a pulse.
We’ll have to take his word for it.
He made it sound like Clearwater in April — not Atlanta in October.
Source: Berkshire mont