NEW YORK -- Gabe Kapler's next test as Phillies manager is the hometown crowd.
The Phillies lost Wednesday evening to the Mets at Citi Field, 4-2. They are 1-4 as they head to Citizens Bank Park to play the Marlins in Thursday's home opener. Kapler will step onto the field for pregame introductions after several highly scrutinized and criticized in-game decisions that led to a pair of losses last week in Atlanta -- and a pair of losses to the Mets have not helped, either.
"Look, my focus is on getting our team ready to play our first home series," Kapler said, asked what kind of reception he expects. "This is not about me. This is about our players. Our players are very, very exciting. Our club is a good, deep, interesting club and what I'm excited for is the fans to get to see those guys play."
The Phillies had eight hits and 26 strikeouts in the two losses to the Mets, despite making Mets starters Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard throw a lot of pitches and chasing them early from the games. But the Phillies also lost both games in part because a pair of defensive alignments did not work as planned.
An infield shift Tuesday prevented a bases-clearing double play that led to both runs in a 2-0 loss. An outfield positioning in the sixth inning Wednesday allowed Amed Rosario to hit an opposite-field fly ball over the head of Phillies right fielder Nick Williams, who was playing remarkably shallow compared to the average right fielder at Citi Field.
Rosario cruised into third for a triple as two runs scored to break a 2-2 tie.
"We were anticipating weaker contact," Kapler said. "Whenever you anticipate weaker contact, you think about the ball falling in front of you, not going over your head like it did. We were positioned effectively from my perspective. It felt like the right decision. To take away the ball in front us rather than optimize for a really well-struck double to right-center field."
The average right fielder played 293 feet from home plate against Rosario last season at Citi Field, according to Statcast™. Williams stood 245 feet from home plate when Rosario lofted a ball over his head.
If Williams had started the play at least 23 feet further back -- still more than 25 feet closer to home plate than average -- Williams would have had an excellent chance to catch the ball, based on the 4.5 seconds he had to make the play.
Of course, hindsight is perfect. The Phillies have employed other outfield alignments that have worked as expected. It just so happened that this one led to the game-winning runs.
The Phillies said they thought Andrew Hutchison's slider would induce weak contact from Rosario, which is why they played Williams where they did. But were the Phillies playing for the perfect scenario there? In other words, did they leave themselves any wiggle room if Hutchison did not place the pitch in the perfect spot and get that weak contact? If Williams had been playing a little deeper, could he have caught that ball?
"That's hard to say," Williams said. "That's really deep out there. And I'm not used to, in general, being that far out there. So if I was at normal depth, I can't say that I would have covered that much ground. So I'm not sure."
Said Kapler: "The one thing I would say is that ball was smoked. That ball was hit hard. If he was playing 10 or 15 feet back, I'm not sure he catches that ball. If he was playing 25 feet back, I'm not sure he catches that ball. It was over his head by a significant margin, and our goal was to take away the ball in front of us."
It did not work Wednesday. They believe it will in the future.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Nola struggles, recovers:Aaron Nola threw 32 pitches in the first inning, but he settled in after allowing two-run home run to Yoenis Cespedes. He pitched four scoreless innings the rest of the way, leaving the game after 87 pitches. He got pulled after throwing 68 pitches last Thursday on Opening Day.
"I could've went a little more, but I think it was a good decision," Nola said. "I didn't have much today. My curveball [wasn't good]. I just tried to take it pitch by pitch, get the leadoff guy out."
Santana steals home: After Williams' fielder's choice scored Cesar Hernandez cut the Mets' lead to one, Rhys Hoskins attempted to steal second base. He purposely got caught in a rundown, trying to give Santana a chance to score. It worked to tie the game.
"Well, we always take the long view to these sorts of things. Sometimes if you're looking at it in a small sample in a very specific time, you can go, 'That's not going to work, that's not going to work, that's not going to work.' We have to be patient and trust that we're trying to look at a very large sample size to evaluate if our strategies are working effectively. I can't express enough confidence that our strategies will pay dividends, but I understand in the short term they haven't and that can be disappointing. I get it." -- Kapler, on defensive alignments not working as expected in two losses to the Mets
"As soon as I hit the ball, I saw that he was playing shallow. I was sure that the ball would go over his head." -- Rosario, on his triple
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Phillies made Syndergaard throw 92 pitches in four innings, an average of 5.11 pitches per plate appearance. The Phillies entered the game leading MLB with an average of 4.33 pitches per plate appearance. Of course, it has not yet translated to many runs.
"We want to cut down on strikeouts," Kapler said. "There are a benefit to strikeouts as well. It means you're working deeper, longer counts. But at the end of those counts, you want to end up with some balls in the gap and over the fence. Certainly we expect that to happen over time."
Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta faces the Marlins in Thursday's home opener at Citizens Bank Park at 3:05 p.m. ET, live on MLB.TV. Vince Velasquez is scheduled to pitch Saturday and Jacob Arrieta is scheduled to make his Phillies debut Sunday.
Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.