As the Philadelphia Phillies still try to find their footing in the early going of the season, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have started to find their footing.

The group took five of six from the Syracuse Mets last week before opening up against the Memphis Redbirds, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate, on Tuesday morning. They fell against the Redbirds on Tuesday in a tough game for the bullpen. Nonetheless, the trip up to Coca-Cola Park provided for some updates on the biggest storylines out of Triple-A. 

IronPigs Notebook:

  • Scott Kingery

    The former top prospect made waves in the season’s first two games, swatting a home run in each of those games to go along with a triple in the second. 

    Kingery’s work at the plate has left more to be desired in the weeks that have followed.

    Entering the week, the utility man was slashing .233/.322/.379 and has just one home run since the early pair. 

    “I was trying to go get the ball early on and really trying to power the ball out front,” Kingery explained of the early season struggles. “I think it’s helped to kind of just simplify things and let the ball come to me and just take short quick swings with the ball… not try to go for the big swing and just let the big swing happen.”

    His week in Syracuse may not have produced gaudy numbers. But he showed signs of better discipline at the plate. After 29 strikeouts and just eight walks in the first month of the season, Kingery struck out once and walked four times during the week in Syracuse.

    That week also included his third home run of the season.

    “Last week, I really locked in what I wanted to do with my swing, and getting up earlier and letting the ball get there really gives me the chance to take those close pitches,” Kingery said. “I think it’s been a big help as far as not having to go get the ball, I can let the ball come to me.”

    Late in the game, Kingery flashed the glove that had so many Philadelphians excited.

    St. Louis Cardinals’ prized prospect Jordan Walker ripped a ground ball up the middle to which Kingery, playing his original position of second base, dove and made the play to throw Walker out at first.

    “Second base is just natural to me,” Kingery said. “Shortest throw. I’ve played probably more innings (there) than anywhere else…I’ve played a lot of shortstop, feel comfortable there. In center field, I’m starting to get more comfortable too. So it really doesn’t matter where I’m at right now, (I’m) just trying to make a play.

  • Jake Cave

    The odd man out when Bryce Harper returned to the Phillies, Jake Cave is off to a scorching start in Triple-A.

    Not entirely surprising given his final game with the Phillies featured a pair of doubles, but encouraging nonetheless. Cave drove one the opposite way for a double in the first inning of Tuesday morning’s game. 

    The veteran is now hitting .407 in his first six games with the IronPigs.

    “I’m always trying to do little things at the plate,” Cave said. “To go on top of that, really, the main thing is to stay healthy. Try to play good defense, trying to run the bases as well. Keep swinging it the way I’m swinging it. And you know, hopefully, when that time comes, get the call back.”

    Before he gets that call back, IronPigs manager Anthony Contreras is optimistic that just his presence will go a long way to help some of the younger players in the room. Cave suggested his leadership style isn’t one where he is asking people to follow, rather just showing them how he acts as a pro.

    After a tough couple of years in baseball, Cave offered some perspective on the ups and downs of baseball and how he approaches his business. 

    “At a young age, I wanted to be a professional baseball player. I want to be a big leaguer. Obviously, I believe I am a big leaguer. But I’m a professional baseball player, I’m still being paid to come to the field every day. So I wake up, I’m ready to come to the field, I want to come to the field. I spend my time with my family and stuff like that, then I come to the field, and it’s baseball. Being in the clubhouse and hanging around the guys. There’s gonna come a day where I’m gonna miss that. So, I love it. I try to relish it and not not take anything for granted. I want to get my body ready every day. I know that I’m getting older and I want to be able to make sure that I’m healthy and I get on the field every day. It’s a job to me, so I take it as a job…There’s no point in me going ‘Oh, I went from big leagues to the Triple-A’ and pouting, and s— like that. What is that going to help? That doesn’t help me at all. Just gotta keep playing. I’ve done it before. I got called up for the first time in 2018 and since that day, I’ve had years where I’ve never got sent down and then I’ve had times I’ve been sent up and down whatever the limit is that you can do. This is what I do, it’s part of my job.”

  • Simon Muzziotti

    The one bat hotter than Cave’s is Simon Muzziotti’s. 

    Entering the game on a ten game hitting streak, the outfielder extended it to 11 games on Tuesday with three hits, continuing a torrid stretch in which he is 24-for-47. 

    “He’s always had the ability to put the bat on the baseball,” Contreras said. “Some guys just have that ability, but now it’s him refining it and understanding when to do that and when to drive the baseball.” 

    Pointing toward the manager’s observation, the ability to put some pop into the baseball has gotten Muzziotti five extra base hits during the hitting streak. 

    For context, Muzziotti had 14 extra base hits in 46 games across four levels of minor league play last season. 

    “He’s come a long way,” Contreras said of Muzziotti. “He’s always been a bat to ball guy, which are the guys that you see that hit high for average…But he started to tap into a little bit of power. He’s (now) understanding where in the at-bat, he can let it fly in and try to drive the baseball, but knows, when he gets to two strikes, he has the ability to put the ball in play and make things happen.”

    The Phillies’ 10th-ranked prospect also flashed the leather early in the game. 

    A sharp fly ball off the bat of the Redbirds’ Irving Lopez had Muzziotti spun around as he approached the wall. He turned, throwing his glove up in a somewhat backward way, and made the grab. 

    “He’s made quite a few of those (catches) this year,” Contreras said. “It’s the one spot where he looks free, he runs around and can make some acrobatic catches…For him to manipulate his body and be able to catch those, that’s what pros do, guys in the big leagues. They make catches like that. Another reason why he’s a top prospect for us.”

  • Michael Plassmeyer

    As concern about the Phillies’ starting pitching depth continues into May, Michael Plassmeyer finds himself in an interesting place.

    A member of the 40-man roster, Plassmeyer is on a short list of guys that the Phillies need to see something from in 2023. Prior to arriving to the Phillies via a trade with the Giants in June 2022, command had been lacking from Plassmeyer.

    On Tuesday, he worked a lot of deep counts, walking two batters and throwing 42 of his 67 pitches for strikes in four innings of work. 

    “It felt like I could have made some better pitches,” he added. “But I attacked the zone a lot better than I had been the past couple ones. That leads to being able to throw the offspeed a little more and being able to get those guys a little more of a swing mode, rather than me battling back the entire time.”

    Plassmeyer did limit the damage against him, allowing just two hits and one earned run for one of his better statlines on the young season. He has been stretched out to 80-plus pitches in two of his starts this season, but voiced flexibility in either remaining in the starting rotation or working out of the bullpen if he got the call to the bigs.

    With Ranger Suarez returning and Nick Nelson being stretched out by the Phillies, there is certainly a perception of pressure on Plassmeyer to perform. Especially after watching teammate James McArthur be designated for assignment last week.

    “That’s just kind of out of my control, really stressing about that is only just going to add stuff on my plate,” Plasmmeyer said. “Whatever happens, happens kind of thing. It’s just understanding that like, I cannot control that. (I’m) focusing on me being the best that I can be right now, being able to help the club here and then up (in the bigs) if I get that opportunity.”

  • Francisco Morales

    The first pitcher out of the bullpen, Morales had a disastrous outing. He walked four batters, including three straight batters to begin the inning, throwing just eight strikes in 25 pitches. The inning included four wild pitches, allowing three runs to score. 

    It was the second straight outing in which Morales was wild, after failing to record an out and surrendering a home run before three walks against the Syracuse Mets last week.

    Entering the game, Morales had a 3.86 ERA and had walked eight batters in 11.2 innings pitched. Control has always been the question mark for him and it appears that he is yet to have an answer for that in the early going of the season.

    “Strike throwing, as easy as that sounds, is a little tougher for some guys,” Contreras said. His ability to get the ball over the plate and get strike one, which he has shown that he can do, He did that in April, he was very good at it, but he needs to get with with (pitching coaches) Cesar (Ramos) and (Ryan) Butcher and maybe change something up, figure out what he needs to do to get back in strike zone.”

  • Jeremy Walker

    Tasked with trying to clean up the mess that Morales created, Walker immediately served up a double to Redbirds’ catcher Ivan Herrera. The right-hander also struggled to command his pitches, allowing a pair of walks in the inning. 

    He did bounce back to end the inning with an impressive, three-pitch strike out of Oscar Mercado. Walker had six appearances in the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves in 2019, including his debut against the Phillies. 

  • Hans Crouse

    The final piece remaining in the Phillies organization from the Spencer Howard deal, Crouse is hoping to find the strike zone more consistently. He’s another pitcher in Lehigh Valley that gives out too many free passes, but possesses promise that the Phillies think they can harness.

    Tuesday marked a bit of a bounce back from two tough outings to start May, but the walk rate makes anything that Crouse is doing almost unsustainable. 

    Contreras also provided updates from Contreras on a pair of pitchers who he sees quite a bit of promise in.

  • Yunior Marte

    The only reason that Marte is back in Triple-A is due to Jeff Hoffman exercising his opt-out clause and essentially forcing the Phillies to either bring him up or lose him. Contreras reiterated that in his assessment of the right-hander.

    “I think his last stint up there, he showed that he belongs in the big leagues, and for things that we can’t control, he’s back down here (and) doing what he does best,” Contreras said. “(Marte’s) a very good kid. Takes the ball anytime we need him to, but his ability to get ahead, dominate the strike zone with that fastball and then be able to complement it with a slider is huge for him.”

  • Noah Skirrow

    Noah Skirrow might not be a household name for fans, but the right hander has made an impression in the early going of the season. 

    A season ago, he made 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A and finished with a 4.36 ERA and 10.00 K/9. So far this season, Skirrow has a 3.38 ERA in 24 innings pitched. 

    In addition to that, the 24 year old got a chance to pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic this spring. Overall, he may have the Phillies thinking about a potential promotion if the starting pitching situation gets more dire.

    “Since he got here last year, (he’s) shown what he can do,” Contreras said. “He’s gotten us deep into the ball games. Just to see his progress and the way that he’s maturing at this level, and what he can kind of bring to a team. We’re very confident that the stuff that he’s presenting to us and showing out on the field is going to be able to play at the big league level and hopefully give the Phillies some depth.”

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