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Kapler faces pressure, shifts focus to players

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Gabe Kapler is trying to keep the focus on his players in 2019, but it might be an impossible task.

Kapler remains a focus and a fascination for Phillies fans, following his hire as Phillies manager in October 2017. He was an unconventional choice at the time, and then he had a forgettable first week on the job in 2018. The Phillies recovered and played themselves into first place in the National League East in August, only to slide out of postseason positioning as the season ended. Kapler then had to defend himself following a report earlier this month in The Washington Post that said he, while the Dodgers' player development director in 2015, did not call police after being told that two Dodgers Minor Leaguers might have been involved in the alleged assault of a 17-year-old girl.

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Gabe Kapler is trying to keep the focus on his players in 2019, but it might be an impossible task.

Kapler remains a focus and a fascination for Phillies fans, following his hire as Phillies manager in October 2017. He was an unconventional choice at the time, and then he had a forgettable first week on the job in 2018. The Phillies recovered and played themselves into first place in the National League East in August, only to slide out of postseason positioning as the season ended. Kapler then had to defend himself following a report earlier this month in The Washington Post that said he, while the Dodgers' player development director in 2015, did not call police after being told that two Dodgers Minor Leaguers might have been involved in the alleged assault of a 17-year-old girl.

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There is pressure on Kapler entering Spring Training, in more ways than one. That pressure figures to increase if the Phillies sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in the coming weeks.

"I think that it's important to continue to shine the light on the players that are here in camp," Kapler said Wednesday at Spectrum Field, where he was asked if he feels the need to get off to a good start this season to avoid the hot seat. "I think it's really important to focus on the fact that we just signed Aaron Nola to a four-year extension, that we just traded for J.T. Realmuto, that we have an improved roster across the board because of the moves we have made. I think it's important that we get off to a good start, because that's what's good for the Philadelphia Phillies. My focus, my attention will always be on winning every night, putting our team in the best position to do so, and then coming back to do it all over again the next day."

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Still, Kapler acknowledged the difficulties of the past couple weeks, although he declined to comment further on those reports.

"There is no question that there were some challenges this offseason," he said. "The way I dealt with those challenges was to focus my attention on others. I think those lessons are applicable to us as a team. When you want to achieve something that matters, you can't do it on your own, you need to lean on others for support and you need to support those leaning on you."

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The Phillies cannot have another late-season freefall in 2019, so Kapler is making changes this spring. He said there will be more "boundaries" in the clubhouse, although he declined to offer any specifics of what those boundaries might be.

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"We're going to implement systems and processes and boundaries that make it clear that we are here to work every single day," he said. "Not that I'm going to implement a set of rules different from what we had last year, but I will say that we are going to raise the bar for the behavior across the board."

Kapler entered last spring with "Be Bold" as his mantra. This year's is "Shoulder to Shoulder," in part because he learned last season that "looking out for ourselves isn't enough to achieve the goal of a World Series championship ring."

Did a lack of rules and perhaps a lack of clubhouse cohesiveness contribute to the team's late-season swoon?

"I don't think so," Kapler said. "When I look back at what happened last year, certainly we weren't perfect, but I do think, especially through the middle of the summer, we were a really, really tight group. I think as the season wore on there was just some fatigue that set in as a group, and that's my responsibility. I've got to make sure that we make that finish the job in 2019."

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

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