PHILADELPHIA — Recently recalled from Lehigh Valley after all of a three-day stint there, and having yet to have played in a major-league game, right-hander Orion Kerkering smiled Sunday afternoon as he peered at the plastic rolled near the clubhouse ceiling, there to be dropped in case of a playoff-clinching carry-on.
Kerkering, 22, had made earlier minor-league stops in Clearwater, Jersey Shore and Reading prior to joining the IronPigs last week. He estimates he has had 140 teammates this season – and insists he could identify every one. He has had up to seven friends and relatives from Florida in town all weekend holding a vigil for his major-league debut.
“It’s been an amazing season playing for all these teams and I just want to do whatever I can to help here,” Kerkering said. “I am just here taking it all in.”
The fifth-round choice in the 2022 draft finally received his chance Sunday night, entering to a warm ovation from a crowd of 41,139 to begin the eighth inning with the Phillies ahead, 5-2. He dazzled with his slider in a perfect inning, striking out two.
“We knew his stuff was electric and it really is,” Rob Thomson said. “The slider is his pitch, but you can’t fall asleep on his fastball. It’s pretty darn good. The only thing about guys coming up here is how they are going to handle this environment, how they are going to handle 30,000 or 40,000 people and understanding the passion of the city. And he looked like he wasn’t sweating out there.”
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Should they reach the playoffs as a wild-card – a virtual certainty at this point – the Phillies will have to set a roster for the best-of-three first-round series. Though there would seem no logical cause to carry more than three starters for three games, Rob Thomson may have reason to expand that list.
“In the playoffs, the extra-inning rules go back to normal,” the manager reminded. “So if you get into a 16-inning game, you better have protection. That’s where those guys come in.”
Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola will each receive a start, but should the series bump to a third game, Thomson likely will have to use either Ranger Suarez or Taijuan Walker. Along with Cristopher Sanchez and Michael Lorenzen, one would be stashed in an already-crowded bullpen in case of multiple extra innings.
Playoff teams are permitted to change their active rosters after each round. At some point – though it is becoming most unlikely – the Phils may have to make room for Rhys Hoskins as a right-handed power threat.
In a 5-2 victory Sunday over the New York Mets, Sanchez made a push to be included in any postseason plans, striking out 10 in seven innings, allowing three hits, two earned runs and one walk.
“I’m not sure where we’d be without him,” Thomson said. “When he came in here, we were struggling with that spot and he solidified that spot. He is really something. I wouldn’t be afraid to use him in leverage situations out of the bullpen. And, look, if we get to October – and we’re not there yet – for me it’s not out of the question of him starting a game.”
Sanchez, who carried a perfect game into the fifth, befuddled the Mets with his change-up and insists he would be OK working from the bullpen in the postseason.
“I really think so,” he said. “From there, you can focus on a couple of pitches, so it’s less work and maybe you get more strength and stuff.”
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In his first relief appearance of the season, Lorenzen was recently bombarded by the Braves, lasting only one-third of an inning and surrendering four earned runs. But Sunday, he worked a perfect ninth for his first save.
“The Braves have a good offense and they were hot that day,” J.T. Realmuto said. “But today, he commended the strike zone and mixed in his curveball a little more. He was able to throw the fastball where he wanted to. He threw a no-hitter three or four weeks ago. So he obviously has the stuff to do it.”
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For the way they serenaded him with a standing ovation that appeared to jolt him out of a midseason slump, no Phillie was more thankful for the fans this season than Trea Turner, who took the microphone before the Fan Appreciation Day game.
“On behalf of everybody in our clubhouse – the players, the coaches, the staff – we appreciate you. It is unbelievable playing here. And thank you for everything you have done for me and my family. It is something I will never forget.
“I appreciate you guys. You make it awesome. Now let’s close this thing out and get this thing done.”
Source: Berkshire mont