CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Gabe Kapler has offered a few hints at how he might use his bullpen in 2018.He has preached flexibility, and how he prefers his relievers be open to pitching in any inning. But he also said he understands the importance of roles, and how relief pitchers crave
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Gabe Kapler has offered a few hints at how he might use his bullpen in 2018.
He has preached flexibility, and how he prefers his relievers be open to pitching in any inning. But he also said he understands the importance of roles, and how relief pitchers crave their routines.
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"We still want to be creative," Kapler said Wednesday afternoon at Carpenter Complex. "We still have a mindset that we want our pitchers to come in thinking of themselves as high-leverage, important-to-every-game relievers. And then use them according to the best possible matchup, and the most important moments of the game. That's not to say roles won't become more clear and more defined. They might. But for right now, the way we want their mindset coming into camp is, 'I am a relief pitcher. I dominate important parts of the game. I am flexible. I am prepared.'"
Mets manager Mickey Callaway matter-of-factly said he is ditching the traditional closer role. He said he is going to pitch his relievers when it makes the most sense. Seventh inning guy? Setup man? Closer?
Kapler could be thinking along those same lines. If so, he is not ready to say it publicly. After all, Spring Training is only a little more than a week old.
So when asked if Hector Neris, who enters camp as the favorite to fill the traditional closer's role, could pitch in the sixth or seventh inning -- if the game is on the line -- Kapler deferred.
"I'm really looking at it as a collective unit of really dynamic relievers because he's not the only guy that has had a role in the past," he said. "He hasn't really had it that long. We don't have Kenley Jansen. We discussed this a little bit in the offseason. We don't have Andrew Miller. There isn't this really long track record of, 'I've been the closer for the last five years and this is what I do.' So we are looking at a collective, dynamic, capable, flexible group of relievers, and trying to treat them all as individuals."
The Phillies have two veteran relievers on the 40-man roster: Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter. Both signed free-agent contracts in December.
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Veterans can be more rigid in their thinking. Former Phillies reliever Joaquin Benoit criticized the team last season because he said relievers never knew when they were going to pitch.
Neshek and Hunter are not concerned.
"There will be roles, but it won't be certain innings," Neshek said. "It'll probably be interchangeable. I don't know how that's going to work. But stuff like that, you pitch into it. I think that stuff changes with how well you do."
"I'm OK with it," Hunter said. "I understand some guys have their set routines or whatever they feel gets them ready to be where they are, but I'm pretty easygoing. If we need to win a game let's win a game. If that's what you think you need to do, he's the skip. It's his decision, and we fall in line. Yes, you do like to play manager and think along with him, but that takes time."
It will be up to Kapler and pitching coach Rick Kranitz to communicate their plans on a game-by-game or series-by-series basis. So far, Neshek and Hunter said the communication has been excellent.
"It's a conversation," Kranitz said. "It's giving them plenty of time before the game. It's all the prep work. They're going to know which guys they're expected to get out. So if you're watching the game you're thinking like, 'OK, I've got it. This looks like it could be me.' There's a lot that's put into it, but they're going to know which guys they're out for."
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.