Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola cruised into the sixth inning of an 8-5 loss to the Braves on Opening Day. He had a runner on second with one out and had thrown just 68 pitches. He had not allowed a run and was backed by a five-run lead. But Kapler decided to go to his bullpen, which slowly lost the lead and eventually the game when Nick Markakis hit a walk-off three-run homer in the ninth inning against Hector Neris.
"Look, tonight the decisions did not work out in our favor, but I'm very confident over a long period of time that they will," Kapler said.
Kapler pointed out that Thursday is the first game of 162 games this season. It is not the end, but he also knows that Opening Day resonates.
Nola said afterward he was "a little bit" surprised to be pulled from the game for left-hander Hoby Milner, who allowed a two-run home run to Freddie Freeman to cut the lead to 5-2. Nola had thrown 64 pitches in his final Grapefruit League start, so he had built enough arm strength to continue.
"I had a good bit left," Nola said.
"You know, third time through has always been tough," said Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp when asked if he was surprised to see Nola leave in the sixth. "We all know that Gabe's very into the analytics. We have trust in our bullpen to get the job done. I think after the double from [Ender] Inciarte [off Nola in the sixth], we thought it was time."
The Braves looked at the Phillies' move to the bullpen much differently.
"Once they took him out, it was kind of a jolt for us," Freeman said. "You wanted to come back. Once they took out a guy like that, it gave us a bolt of energy."
Kapler explained that he removed Nola because he believes in all of his pitchers.
"I believe in Milner's ability to come in and get Freeman and Markakis out," said Kapler. "All of our guys, all of the guys who pitched tonight, I have tremendous faith in. The reason we brought Hoby in to face those two batters is because we felt a strong degree of confidence that he could get those two batters out."
Milner had enjoyed a tremendous amount of success against left-handed hitters last season. He had not allowed a home run in 75 plate appearances against them, and Freeman came into the at-bat 0-for-5 with two strikeouts against him.
But this time Freeman got him. Ozzie Albies then hit a solo homer against lefty Adam Morgan to start the eighth to make it 5-3. After a pair of walks, a passed ball and a throwing error from Knapp allowed Freeman to score and make it 5-4, Preston Tucker singled to score pinch-runner Peter Bourjos to tie it.
"Look, we are all very competitive people," Kapler said. "It's difficult to lose on Opening Day like that. I also believe in the long view we have. We had an incredible camp with an incredible amount of positive energy. I expect our club to come back tomorrow with that same degree of positive energy. This is going to be one baseball game out of 162 baseball games, and I am still extremely confident that we have the pieces in that room to win a ton of them."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Phillies walk into a big lead: Braves right-hander Julio Teheran exited when he hit Rhys Hoskins with a pitch and walked Aaron Altherr with two outs in the sixth. Rex Brothers issued a seven-pitch walk to J.P. Crawford, then issued a bases-loaded free pass to Maikel Franco. Knapp then greeted Dan Winkler with the two-run single that gave the Phillies a 5-0 lead.
Neshek unavailable: Kapler said that right-hander Pat Neshek was unavailable because of a "little issue with his right lat." It proved significant, as he likely would have pitched at some point in the eighth inning. The Phillies already are without veteran right-hander Tommy Hunter, who is on the DL with a hamstring injury.
"My job, my main intention, is to keep our guys healthy and strong for 162 games," Kapler said. "I want to protect Pat. I have a tremendous level of respect for him. I think he's going to be a contributor to this ballclub that is incredibly meaningful over a long period of time, therefore my job and my goal was to ensure that he was safe and strong."
QUOTABLE "I have a high degree of conviction that Hoby will come in and get those two batters out most of the time. Had he gotten those two batters out, then we would be having a different kind of conversation." -- Kapler, on his sixth-inning decision
HOSKINS DELIVERS Hoskins swung at the first pitch just 14.7 percent of the time last season, which ranked 18th out of 349 MLB batters with 200 or more plate appearances. But he swung at the first pitch he saw this season in the first inning, dropping a two-out double down the right-field line to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead.
WHAT'S NEXT Phillies: Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta pitches the second game of this three-game series Friday night against the Braves at SunTrust Park at 7:35 p.m. ET. Pivetta posted a 6.02 ERA in 26 starts last season, but the Phillies' saw a better pitcher in the second half and see a pitcher primed to break out in a big way.
Braves:Mike Foltynewicz will take the mound when the Braves and Phillies resume their three-game series Friday. Foltynewicz will display the more compact windup he has developed in an attempt to avoid the inconsistent command that plagued him as he posted a 4.74 ERA over 28 starts last year. .