Kapler takes responsibility after 'pen error, loss
Phillies manager called on Milner, who had not warmed up in 3rd inning
ATLANTA -- Gabe Kapler stood in the middle of the manager's office Saturday night at SunTrust Park and answered question after question about a puzzling series of events that started Thursday on Opening Day and continued through Saturday's 15-2 loss to the Braves.
The Phillies needed 21 pitchers to pitch 28 innings in the series.
They needed utility player Pedro Florimon to record the final three outs Saturday because they had exhausted their bullpen, in part because they pulled Aaron Nola after just 68 pitches on Thursday, in part because of their aggressive use of the bullpen, in part because Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez could not pitch deep into their games Friday and Saturday.
But the moment that had baseball talking is the moment Kapler pulled Velasquez with two outs in the third inning for left-hander Hoby Milner, except Milner had not thrown a single warmup pitch because nobody had told him to warm up.
Milner's late entry from the bullpen to the mound got Braves manager Brian Snitker so irate that he got ejected, arguing that Milner should get no warmup pitches on the mound. It had umpire Jerry Layne afterward saying that he felt a responsibility to protect Milner, but that somebody from the Phillies should have to answer to Major League Baseball for the mistake.
"I take full responsibility," Kapler said, calling it a miscommunication between the dugout and bullpen.
Kapler has said repeatedly that he takes pride in his communication skills. It is a point of emphasis for him.
It made the error more glaring.
"It's a pretty good indication that I need to do a better job, and I will," Kapler said. "I will continue to strive for excellence in that regard. Miscommunications are just simply unacceptable and no matter where they occur in our clubhouse or in our dugout or on our field, they are always my responsibility."
Asked if he understood how this might look, a rookie manager, a pitcher being called into a game without being ready, a utility player pitching in just the third game of the season, Kapler said, "What I understand is that the usage of our bullpen has been to keep them safe and strong, which we have done. You can go back and look at the innings and how many pitches our guys have thrown and you'll find we have kept them safe and strong. We understand that it's early in the season and some of the usage today was designed just to get us through the game."
Florimon became the first player without regular pitching experience to pitch in a team's first three games of the season since the Yankees' Oscar Roettger in 1924, according to Baseball Reference.
"I feel two ways," Kapler said about his high expectations entering the season. "First, it always stings to lose. You don't ever want to lose one game, let alone a series. On the flip side, I would also convey that I'm keeping the long view in mind and that this is not about three games, this is not about one game. It's about 162 games and a postseason. And I won't come off that position because it's what I believe in my heart. I believe it strongly.
"I am remaining 100 percent positive. I believe in this club. I believe in the men in that clubhouse. I believe in our coaching staff and there's no chance that I'm going to let three games, two of them tougher, derail what we're trying to accomplish here, which is to go to the postseason in 2018, which I believe we will do."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Small ball, big reward: After Braves pitcher Brandon McCarthy moved a pair of runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt in the second inning, Ender Inciarte delivered a two-run single that got the Braves offense rolling.
Staying hot: After producing an encouraging three-hit game on Friday night, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson started the four-run third inning with a leadoff double. He raced to third base on one of Ryan Flaherty's two doubles and scored on a sacrifice fly from Chris Stewart, who was pressed into duty because the Braves' top two catchers -- Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki -- were injured within the first two games.
"I was healthy going into the game. I'm healthy now. I feel fine. I wasn't sore going into today. I told him I was ready to go. It was just a miscommunication that I didn't get as many warmup pitches that would be ideal." -- Milner, who said he had not thrown a pitch off the mound when he got called into the game.
"It's only three games, it's only three games." -- Florimon, who pitched the eighth inning. Florimon said he threw in the bullpen a few times in Spring Training in the event he might be needed this season.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Milner became the first pitcher to appear in the first three games of the season on three consecutive days since Texas' Jake Diekman in 2016.
VINNY CAN'T GO DEEP AGAIN
Velasquez's issue entering the season was his inability to pitch deep into games. It continued Saturday.
"Obviously, not the way you want to start off," he said. "It's my responsibility to make an adjustment early in the game, based on the game plan we had."
Phillies: Phillies right-hander Ben Lively starts Monday night's series opener against the Mets at Citi Field. Lively made the Opening Day roster and rotation following an injury to right-hander Jerad Eickhoff. He went 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA in 15 starts last season as a rookie.
Braves: The Braves will resume their division rivalry against the Nationals when the two teams begin their season series Monday night at SunTrust Park. Atlanta southpaw Sean Newcomb will take the mound and attempt to build off last year's rookie experiences. First pitch is scheduled for 7:35 p.m. ET. .
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