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Kapler remains steadfast about his process

Despite bumps in Opening Series, Phils skipper 'keeping the long view in mind'
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

Gabe Kapler spoke in the abstract about his managerial style before Opening Day. Everybody would play regularly, but nobody would play every day. Everybody would be happy about that. They would be happy because they would be healthy and productive. They would be the best versions of themselves.

But until the Phillies played the Braves the past three days at SunTrust Park, nobody really knew how Kapler's vision -- Be Bold! Value at the Margins! -- would look on the field in a game.

Gabe Kapler spoke in the abstract about his managerial style before Opening Day. Everybody would play regularly, but nobody would play every day. Everybody would be happy about that. They would be happy because they would be healthy and productive. They would be the best versions of themselves.

But until the Phillies played the Braves the past three days at SunTrust Park, nobody really knew how Kapler's vision -- Be Bold! Value at the Margins! -- would look on the field in a game.

Now they know.

It is a small sample size, and things can change, but we have learned in three games that baseball with Kapler is unlike any baseball that Phillies fans have seen. In fact, it is unlike anything that most anybody has seen. Managers get second-guessed all the time. It is part of the job. But Kapler has been second-guessed and questioned perhaps more than any rookie manager so early in a season in recent memory.

"There's no school to go to to prep," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said on Sunday in Detroit. "... The game gets quick. New things happen. There's a lot of different dynamics. [I have] empathy, without a doubt. You just encourage anybody in that [situation] to depend upon other people, rely upon other people for help. Don't think you've got to do it all by yourself."

Kapler has shuttled his position players in and out of the lineup as promised. Only Rhys Hoskins and Carlos Santana started at the same position the first three games of the season. Hoskins, the most feared hitter on the roster, did not finish two of those games. Kapler removed him for defensive purposes on Thursday. He removed him on Saturday, too, likely just to get him off his feet in a blowout loss.

Aaron Altherr is the only other player to start the first three games, but he played center and right field.

Odubel Herrera, who has been the team's best player the past three seasons, did not start on Opening Day. Jorge Alfaro did not start the first two games. Scott Kingery, whose natural position is second base, started his first two games at third base and shortstop.

But the position players are mere footnotes after Kapler used 21 pitchers (13 different players) over 28 innings against the Braves, making a total of 18 pitching changes. No team in baseball history had previously used more than 19 pitchers in the first three games of a season.

Video: PHI@ATL: Kapler on miscommunication, loss to Braves

Pedro Florimon became the last of those pitchers in the eighth inning on Saturday. He pitched because Kapler had exhausted the bullpen and needed to save arms, even with an off-day on Sunday. Florimon, everyone knows, is a utility player. He is the first player without pitching experience (unlike Rick Ankiel, Brooks Kieschnick, Christian Bethancourt, etc.) to pitch in one of the first three games of a season since the Yankees' Oscar Roettger in 1924.

Florimon said he threw in the bullpen a few times this spring, in case this scenario happened. He probably figured it might happen in June or July.

It happened on March 31.

The snowball started rolling on Thursday, when Kapler pulled Aaron Nola from the game after 68 pitches. It did not matter Nola had been dominant to that point. The data showed pitchers struggle the third time through a lineup. It also said Hoby Milner had incredible success against left-handed hitters and, specifically, Freddie Freeman.

So, Nola was gone.

But the bullpen blew a five-run lead and lost the game. It was just the second time in franchise history the Phillies blew a lead that large on Opening Day.

The Phillies used nine pitchers to pitch 11 innings in Friday's victory. They used six pitchers in Saturday's 15-2 loss, but other than Florimon's appearance, the biggest story was somebody forgot to tell Milner to warm up to replace Vince Velasquez with two outs in the third inning.

Milner had not thrown a single pitch off the bullpen mound to that point.

Kapler, who prides himself on his communication skills, acknowledged a breakdown. But he remained otherwise steadfast that his process will work.

"I'm keeping the long view in mind," Kapler said. "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 am remaining 100 percent positive. I believe in this club. 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."

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.

Philadelphia Phillies