One down, 161 to go. The Phillies’ difficult-to-digest, season-opening 8-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves gave us a first glimpse of how rookie manager Gabe Kapler plans to run things from the dugout this season. Like Odubel Herrera, I was forced to sit out the Extra Innings newsletter opener, but I’m thrilled to be typing here ahead of Game No. 2 on Friday night. My colleague Matt Breen and I will be at SunTrust Park for the entire three-game series against the Braves, and we plan to provide as much insight as possible.
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For openers …
All right, so it was an opening-day disaster for the Phillies. A 5-0 lead with Aaron Nola, the ace of the staff on the mound, dissolved into an inexplicable loss in Gabe Kapler’s major-league managerial debut. Kapler pushed a bunch of buttons and ended up with a mushroom cloud that resulted in five relievers’ surrendering seven runs. The bullpen ERA after one game is 14.71. It likely will get better, but if it doesn’t, this will be the longest season in Phillies history.
Anyway, we’re not here to dwell on the negatives. A lot of good occurred before the bullpen’s implosion, starting with Aaron Nola’s starting performance. Kapler said Nola looked like a young Zack Greinke after his last spring-training start, and he did so again in the opener. He allowed just three hits, struck out three and walked one in 5 1/3 innings.
“Nola did a tremendous job,” Kapler said. “I told him as much when he came off the mound. He knows he was spectacular tonight.”
What Nola did not know after the game was why he had to come out of it.
“No, not yet,” Nola said when asked if there was any explanation from the manager.
The Phillies also received outstanding offensive performances from Cesar Hernandez, who went 2 for 4 with a home run, and Rhys Hoskins, who had a couple of doubles and an RBI. Perhaps most encouraging, however, were the two walks by Maikel Franco, including one with the bases loaded that forced in a sixth-inning run. Franco had 108 career walks in 1,646 plate appearances coming into this season, and the Phillies worked with him all spring on doing a better job of laying off pitches out of the strike zone.
Looking for the gory details of the Phillies’ season-opening loss? Matt Breen describes them in his season-opening game story. You might not like manager Gabe Kapler‘s reasoning for doing what he did, but he still said he would do it all over again given the chance. The manager also still believes that the bullpen will be a team strength before the season is over.
Kapler managed to make a lot of people unhappy — Odubel Herrera, Aaron Nola, the fans — in his managerial debut, but he should be a pure dream for baseball fans who like to be armchair managers as I wrote in my opening-day column. At least on this day, managing by the numbers backfired on Kapler.
Center fielder Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies’ best position player over the past three seasons, so you’d think he would be in the opening-day lineup Thursday against the Braves. Kapler explains why he was not.
If you haven’t got around to it yet, our Thursday special section was filled with terrific stories from our team of Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com staff writers and columnists. Pick and choose which ones you want to read.
Today: Phillies at Atlanta. Nick Pivetta vs. Mike Foltynewicz
Tomorrow: Phillies at Atlanta. Vince Velasquez vs. Brandon McCarthy
Monday: Phillies open three-game series against the New York Mets at Citi Field with Ben Lively facing Matt Harvey
April 5: Home opener at 3:05 p.m. vs. Miami Marlins.
April 8: Jake Arrieta makes his Phillies debut against the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park.
Stat of the day
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Phillies have the youngest opening-day roster in baseball with an average age of 26.344. The next two youngest teams are the Miami Marlins (27.351) and Cincinnati Reds (27.196).
From the mailbag
What will Drew Hutchison's role be on the team – a starting pitcher or bullpen reliever? And who will get sent down to the minors when Jake Arrieta gets added to the active roster April 8?
— Dan May (@dannmaal) March 29, 2018
Answer: Hutchison is serving as a long reliever out of the bullpen to start the season after having an excellent spring training and making the team as a non-roster invitee. He is essentially filling the role that would have belonged to Mark Leiter Jr. had the righthander not landed on the disabled list. When Jake Arrieta is activated, the most likely candidate to be sent out is Victor Arano or Jake Thompson.