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Kapler: Phillies fans have a right to be upset

After losses in Atlanta, steps are being taken to manage 'pen effectively
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

NEW YORK -- Gabe Kapler is not blind to the intense criticism the Phillies have received the past few days.

They are the talk of baseball, but not in a way that anybody wanted. Kapler has been panned because of the way he managed his pitching staff last week in a three-game series against the Braves at SunTrust Park. The rookie manager pulled Aaron Nola after 68 pitches Thursday, despite dominant stuff and a 5-0 lead. The bullpen blew that lead and lost the game. Kapler then used nine pitchers in 11 innings Friday, and Saturday nobody told Hoby Milner to warm up in the third inning when they summoned him from the bullpen. They finished that 15-2 loss with utility player Pedro Florimon pitching the eighth inning. It was the first time since 1924 that a player without regular pitching experience pitched in one of the first three games of the season.

NEW YORK -- Gabe Kapler is not blind to the intense criticism the Phillies have received the past few days.

They are the talk of baseball, but not in a way that anybody wanted. Kapler has been panned because of the way he managed his pitching staff last week in a three-game series against the Braves at SunTrust Park. The rookie manager pulled Aaron Nola after 68 pitches Thursday, despite dominant stuff and a 5-0 lead. The bullpen blew that lead and lost the game. Kapler then used nine pitchers in 11 innings Friday, and Saturday nobody told Hoby Milner to warm up in the third inning when they summoned him from the bullpen. They finished that 15-2 loss with utility player Pedro Florimon pitching the eighth inning. It was the first time since 1924 that a player without regular pitching experience pitched in one of the first three games of the season.

The Phillies and Mets had been scheduled to play Monday night at Citi Field, but the game was postponed because of snow. MLB.com caught up with Kapler, asking him about the negative reaction to his first three games, his concerns moving forward and possible solutions for the future.

MLB.com: Does the negative reaction, not only in Philly, but across baseball, concern you? What's your reaction to that negative view so far?

Kapler: I'm very well aware of the perception thus far. I'm empathetic to the viewpoint. If people are upset, they have a right to be upset, and it's my job to be aware and responsive to that.

MLB.com: How do you respond to that?

Kapler: I spent the off-day putting together bullpen-usage guidelines, talking to our front office, talking to our field staff, talking to our players and putting together action steps in how to manage our bullpen as effectively as possible.

MLB.com: Let's talk about the bullpen usage: pulling Nola after 68 pitches, using 21 pitchers to pitch 28 innings and Florimon pitching Saturday.

Kapler: We came into the season understanding that we had a nine-man 'pen. We also came into the season knowing that Nola was going to make his second start on regular rest. So with that in mind, we didn't mind potentially using him for less of a long stretch. Because we had the off-day coming up, because we had a nine-man 'pen, we had the ability to mix and match, we had the ability to be creative, we had the ability to match up. We sort of executed on that game plan. Now, we didn't expect everything to sort of happen the way it did, which then put us in a tough spot, right? Because we had a short start from subsequent starters and we had to go through our 'pen. However, we never put our bullpen at risk. We didn't overuse our pitchers. If we had played today, we would have gone in with a relatively fresh bullpen.

Video: PHI@ATL: Outfielder Pedro Flormion takes the mound

The concept of using Pedro Florimon, there is going to be a position player that pitches several times this season. And most of the time, it's going to be in situations like that, where the game is out of hand, and that's a really good time to save your 'pen. Just so you know, we had a game plan for every one of those games and knew that if we were put in that spot, we would use Florimon. That being said, I do want to be responsive to your question, which is, "Am I aware of how people are feeling about this?" Yes. I'm empathetic to the way they're feeling about it. It's my job to be aware and to be responsive. So what I did was I spent my off-day putting together bullpen-usage plans going forward and sharing them with our field staff, our front office and our players.

MLB.com: So you've talked to Matt Klentak. Have you talked to Andy MacPhail? Have they expressed any concerns about how these first three games went?

Kapler: I've spoken to Matt and I've spoken to [assistant GM] Ned [Rice], but mainly about business, right? Like, bullpen construction and lineup construction and some of the things I'm very interested in. So I'm going to spend my off-day thinking about how to be strategic for the next series based on what's happened. I also talked to several players yesterday, and I talked to field staff. And today I also talked to more players and field staff about how I intend for us to use our bullpen going forward.

What you could see if you could see a little bit more of the long view is a plan to use a lot of relievers early in the first couple days of the season and then to begin to stretch those relievers out over bigger pockets of lineups, rather than matching up individually. But we had the flexibility to match up individually in the first couple games of the season. I think that's really important to convey. This was not a reaction to what was happening in the games, but a plan.

MLB.com: Can you explain what happened with Milner? It baffles people that he wasn't warmed up.

Kapler: I would say probably the similar thing. Any time there is a communication issue, leaving aside specifics, it's my responsibility. So again, I just want to continue to say, I own the miscommunication with Hoby.

MLB.com: Are you worried about losing the players in the clubhouse if this continues? Or does your communication the past few days alleviate any concerns?

Kapler: If you go back to the middle of the offseason, or after my transition to the Phillies, you build relationships with a lot of energy early on because you know that things are not going to always be easy. And so as you build that foundation of trust and you build that two-way street of communication, it becomes more and more dependable when there is some adversity. So we faced some adversity the first couple days of the season. But I am confident that we built a strong foundation. I think the players know they can come and can talk to me about anything. I am actively communicating with players every day, and it is not going to be easy. There are going to be challenging moments. The last three days were undoubtedly challenging. And I don't expect it to be the last time that we're challenged in that way.

So I will continue to relentlessly communicate. We will continue to iterate our processes so that these things don't happen going forward. It's not to say there won't be more issues, right? There are going to be. Baseball is such a long season. Things are going to pop up. But we're going to be strong enough because of the foundation that we have created and continue to create that we're going to be able to withstand some of that adversity.

MLB.com: Are you worried about the reaction you'll get Thursday at the home opener?

Kapler: I would say that, again, being understanding, if fans are upset with me, if they're upset with the Phillies, there's probably a reason for it. So that's for me to own. I've said it before and I'll say it again, we're in a partnership with the city of Philadelphia. We're in a partnership with the fans of Philadelphia. And it's my responsibility to be responsive to their frustrations, and I will. And I will create processes so that this never happens again.

MLB.com: Does winning cure all? If you start winning, people are likely to forget about this.

Kapler: Wins drive everything we do around here. Everything that we think about -- and we think about it nonstop -- is designed to win tonight's baseball game. I think winning baseball games will help. I also think being responsive and creating stronger processes will help us win baseball games. One I can control, which is what I am squarely on top of, which is what I spent the entire off-day doing yesterday, which is what I did from the moment that I got on the plane [Saturday night] to the time that we're talking right now. Create stronger processes so, even to be more specific, I've had conversations with [pitching coach Rick Kranitz], [assistant pitching coach Chris Young], [bullpen coach Jim Gott] and [bench coach Rob Thomson], every day. It's an after-action review, what happened in yesterday's game? How can we do it better today? How can we be better as a team, as a unit, going forward? That's how I spend my time.

In a lot of ways, that is responsive to people feeling less than satisfied with what's happened so far, which I totally understand.

Video: PHI@ATL: Phillies discuss tough 8-5 loss to Braves

MLB.com: So you have an after-action review. Do you go back and say, we should've let Nola pitch more? My sense is that you'd do it the same way again.

Kapler: Yes, specifically because of what I led off with. We knew that we wanted to bring him back on regular rest. We knew that we were coming out of Spring Training and it was early in the season. We know that we're keeping Aaron Nola's long view, all of his starts, and I told Noles this specifically: "We are going to ride you, you are going to go deep into baseball games. What we did in Game 1 is not indicative of how we might utilize you in your fourth start or your fifth start or in the middle of the season."

But we do keep a long view in mind, we do keep health and strength in mind. And the way I would think about it, it's been a very consistent theme throughout the offseason and into Spring Training. We're designing this to keep you strong and healthy, not just in April and May, but in September and October as well. So here we are in the very first start in March, we're keeping the long view in mind. We are going to have him have a short outing, depend on our bullpen early in the season, to get those guys into the mix, understand that we have an off-day coming up and we're going to be able to rest them and then to keep Noles in a position where he can dominate and be healthy all the way through the season. And then layer on top that we had just the right matchup at just the right moment and that gave us our best chance to win that day's baseball game.

Now, of course it didn't work out. Of course it didn't work out. But the process, the plan, was strong and in place. It wasn't, "What should we do if this happens?" It was, "We had already decided how this was going to play out."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

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