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Kapler explains decision to not start Herrera

Skipper looking beyond opener to best utilize outfield depth
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

ATLANTA -- Gabe Kapler's first lineup as Phillies manager is the first of 162 this season, but it carried extra significance Thursday at SunTrust Park.

It is Opening Day, after all.

View Full Game Coverage

ATLANTA -- Gabe Kapler's first lineup as Phillies manager is the first of 162 this season, but it carried extra significance Thursday at SunTrust Park.

It is Opening Day, after all.

View Full Game Coverage

But it didn't sit well with center fielder Odubel Herrera, who arguably has been the Phillies' best overall player the past three seasons. He found himself on the bench against Braves right-hander Julio Teheran. Aaron Altherr started in center field. Nick Williams started in right.

"I don't like the decision, but if they think there are better options, I have to respect that," said Herrera, who entered the game as a defensive substitution in the eighth inning of the 8-5 loss.

Kapler understood. He also explained.

"We have four, maybe five, very well-equipped outfielders, if you consider Scotty [Kingery] to be a guy who can go out there and play," Kapler said. "So we have to look not just at today's lineup, but through five, six, seven, eight games, and that's exactly what we did. And we picked out the spots to give our guys the best possible chance to succeed against the matchups that we thought made the most sense instead of looking at Opening Day in a vacuum."

Herrera was 5-for-27 in his career against Teheran, while Altherr is 2-for-16 and Williams is 2-for-10. But Kapler said the fact that Phillies starter Aaron Nola is a ground-ball pitcher and other Phillies starters are fly-ball pitchers also factored into the decision.

In other words, if everybody is going to get days off here and there to get everybody enough playing time to be happy, Thursday seemed like a good day not to play Herrera, Opening Day or not.

"Let me be very, very clear: Odubel is going to play a ton," Kapler said. "He is an exceptional outfielder and a proven bat in the lineup, and we can't wait to get him out there and that's coming.

"I want our guys to want to be in the lineup every day. I want them to have that fire in their belly to compete every single day. And I thought the coolest thing was when I talked to Odubel, he said, 'I'm upset. I want to play.' And I said, 'Awesome. That's exactly what we want you to feel.' We can't make decisions because somebody might be upset. … When these guys see how this all plays out and at the end of the season when they're all getting their reps and they've seen that over a long period of time, there's going to be a whole lot more comfort there."

Meanwhile, Cesar Hernandez started over Kingery at second base. Hernandez is 5-for-27 against Teheran. Andrew Knapp started over Jorge Alfaro at catcher. Kapler said he expects Alfaro and Knapp to each play three of the season's first six games. That split could continue the rest of the season.

But one thing seems clear: Players are unlikely to be caught off-guard with the lineup. Kapler said that as the season progresses, the Phillies could have lineups planned 10 days in advance.

"But we will never be married to it because there are so many variables and so many things that might change our approach to lineup construction that we don't want to lock ourselves in," he said. "We also want to be able to convey to our players that in our vision, 'You have eight of the next 10.'"

Neris in the sixth inning? Maybe

Kapler shied away this spring from saying how exactly the Phillies might use their bullpen, but he offered a hint Thursday.

Video: Outlook: Neris should deliver many K's as closer

"If at any point the game hangs in the balance in our minds, we're thinking of going to our dudes, our guys we feel like can get those hitters out," Kapler said. "That could be the sixth, it could be the eighth, it could be the seventh, it could be the ninth. We're going to go after the moment in the game that we feel like we can win it."

Why 4? Well, why not?

Kingery will wear No. 4 this season. He said he wanted a single-digit number. Nine also was available.

He wore No. 25 at the University of Arizona, but he said that number held no special significance because he also wore No. 53 there.

"Seventeen is actually my number," Kingery said, smiling. "But we've got a guy with that number."

Rhys Hoskins wears No. 17.

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, Odubel Herrera